Conflict Management Styles in the Workplace

Conflict in the workplace is to be expected. How conflicts are managed in the workplace differs from one company to another, across industries, and among different cultures. Therefore, one conflict management style cannot be right for every workplace. Conflicts may be tied to a particular project, or to workplace interactions that occur independently of particular projects. But conflicts aren’t necessarily bad, and pretending like they don’t exist never helps. In fact, conflicts are necessary for healthy relationships. But the approach to addressing conflicts in the workplace can make things better or worse in the long term.

One type of conflict management in the workplace is...

simple problem solving. It means using logical thinking to understand a problem and understanding the various conflicting viewpoints. Done well, it helps develop trust among team members, because each party to the conflict is involved in exploring solutions. When problem solving is done effectively, you get the proverbial win-win situation.

Compromise is another conflict management technique. Sometimes problem solving doesn’t work, and compromise is necessary. Compromise means reaching an agreement such that each of the conflicting parties gets something they want, but they will probably have to less than everything they want. While in some cultures, compromise seems like a losing proposition, in others, such as some Asian and African cultures, relationships are valued more than the outcome of a conflict. Compromising should never require that people compromise on their core values and basic needs.

Forcing a solution is a conflict management technique that should be used rarely and judiciously. Forcing a solution means that the person in charge uses their authority to rule on the outcome of a conflict regardless of the opinions of the parties to the conflict. Used indiscriminately, forcing a solution cripples morale. But there are situations where conflicts must be addressed quickly, and that’s when this solution may be necessary. Those who must force a solution to a conflict must make sure to follow up with the team later in order to discuss their reasoning behind their ruling on the conflict.

Conflict management “techniques” that are ineffective and should be avoided include smoothing over conflicts by downplaying issues or refusing to confront them. Treating a conflict like it doesn’t exist is one of the worst things a manager can do. Withdrawing from a conflict is not a resolution technique, but a cop-out. The only time withdrawing can work is short term, in a situation where the parties to the conflict are no long communicating but venting and need to step back and take a brief time out. But the problem must be addressed, and withdrawal is not a solution to a conflict.

If you are a manager, then no doubt you will be called upon to mediate in some form of conflict in the workplace. Require conflicting parties to discuss the matter respectfully and do not openly take sides. It’s not a good idea to pressure parties to agree. Rather, they should ideally collaborate to reach an agreement. The intricacies of conflict management vary among different cultures, so it is important to understand both the corporate culture and the overall culture in which the organization resides.

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