Conflict Resolution: Five Ways
It’s a part of life – conflict, though for most of us it’s a part we’re not too fond of. There are several different kinds of conflict. Conflict within families, conflict with our friends, and even conflict within our workplaces. You know what I mean. That time you’re at a staff meeting and a topic comes up and all of a sudden everyone has a different idea or think something else should be done. You may be unsure if you should speak up and have your idea heard. You may decide just to keep to yourself and let the situation (and ideas) run its course.
But, did you know that there is such a thing as healthy conflict with your coworkers? Disagreements are a way to grow stronger and let your ideas be known. Maybe someone hasn’t thought of it your way yet. But how? How is it possible to have conflict with the people you work with and still make sure you are working together effectively.
1) Embrace Conflict
We need to stop thinking of conflict negatively. Let’s think of it as a way to grow and affect positive change. Think back to every relationship you have ever had. Whether it be your mom, dad, sibling, husband, significant other, friends, children – were they all 100% conflict free? Of course not! It’s the same thing within you working relationships. You spend a lot of time with these people so like any other relationship, there will be conflict.
Maybe you’re working in a small group and conflict arises in the middle of your project. The conflict is not a choice, but how you handle that conflict is. Don’t avoid the conflict! Face it head on reminding yourself that this is not negative. It’s an opportunity for the end result to be better and a way for your communication to grow with your coworkers.
2) Expectations vs. Agreements
Next, you need to understand the difference between expectations and agreements. If you don’t understand the two, this may be the base of all of your conflicts. An expectation is the belief that something will happen. Within interpersonal relationships, expectations are one-sided, unspoken, often unconscious, controlling, and usually require no reasoning. Believe it or not, we always have expectations of people and when these expectations are not met, we are often disappointed. Agreements are discussed, require involvement from all parties, and must be based in logic. The main difference between the two are agreements can be denied. In other words, someone can say no to an agreement. When you treat an expectation as an agreement, conflict in the relationship is bound to arise.
Let’s say you assign a task to someone, but a date as to when that task must be done is not assigned. You assume, or have an expectation, that the task will be done by the end of the week, but the person you assigned it to does not have that same expectation. When you get upset that the work is not done, it is pointed out to you that you had an expectation and not an agreement. Had you asked, you may have been able to come to an agreement and conflict could have been avoided.
3) Understanding Aggressive vs. Assertive Anger
As we stated earlier, conflict is unavoidable, but the way it is handled is completely up to you. If you choose to address the situation head on, it’s important to be assertive instead of aggressive. Assertive anger is motivated by the desire to inform others of our own boundaries while still maintaining a willingness to respect the boundaries of others. When you’re engaged in conflict, are you using “you” statements or “I” statements? If you’re using “you” statements, you’re most likely behaving aggressively. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as you respect all of the parties involved.
At the end of a large assignment, maybe your boss gave credit for your hard work to a coworker who does not speak up and correct the mistake. You decided to schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss this and there your anger turns to aggression. During the meeting you assign blame, demand respect, and attempt to demonstrate superiority over your coworker. Now at the end of the meeting you have a larger conflict than when you originally started. If you had gone into the meeting acting assertively instead of aggressively, the outcome would have probably been much different.
4) Monitoring De-escalation
We should monitor our conflicts in the workplace. A good way to do this is to evaluate whether they are escalating or de-escalating as they continue on. A healthy conflict is one that is de-escalating and one in which the intensity of the conflict lowers as time goes on. There are some techniques you can use within conflicts to make sure they head in the right direction.
First, re-frame the situation in your mind. Try to understand why your coworker is upset and find the real root of the problem. Attempt to view the conflict from their point of view. Second, remember anger quite often clouds judgment and reduces skill. If you find the other person is “acting out,” try to remind yourself that they may not be seeing things clearly. Next, let go of the need to be right or the need to win and attempt to valid their feelings. Remind yourself that you are all there working towards a common goal. You are a team member and your success is dependent on theirs. Lastly, if you feel yourself losing control, try to disengage. Maybe suggest scheduling a different time to discuss the situation when you all have calmed down and can address the conflict objectively.
5) Recognize your conflict style
It’s hard to engage in healthy conflict. Even the best communicator can struggle with this. It’s so easy to slip back into your old habits. But, at the end of the day we must remember that the way we communicate has a lot to do with our subconscious and things that are beyond our control. If we recognize our conflict style and analyze the way we engage in unhealthy conflict, we can regain the ability to work against these bad habits.
For example, if you find yourself becoming defensive when engaging in conflict, acknowledge it and recognize it. If your boss pulls you aside to critique your latest project, you might find yourself becoming defensive. Instead of giving into this, recognize it and remind yourself it’s not personal. Listen to the critiques. Knowing what kind of conflict style you have will allow you to better communicate with those around you and make you a better person overall.
Conflict is a fact of life, but if you make use of these tips, it will not longer be such an overwhelming and anxiety-provoking part of life. It will be yet another tool in your arsenal that you can use to guarantee success and improve your interpersonal relationships.
Ron leads a Las Vegas based consulting practice where the focus is on creating happy, harmonious and high-performing teams. Additionally, he is an accomplished writer, speaker, and coach that focuses on helping highly successful female leaders discover and transition to more fulfilling work and roles. If you want to be entertained, inspired, and transformed, then join the tribe!