As the majority of popular definitions go, a conflict is a situation where people’s interests clash, and the key to resolution is to accommodate the interests of all parties in the best possible way. Similar to preferences in communication and negotiations, every person has a preferred method of dealing with conflicts. Sometimes the word ‘dealing’ is an overstatement since a person prefers to avoid conflicts at all costs, including at their own expense. In other cases, dealing is the right word, since looking for a compromise or being pushy is the selected strategy.
According to the idea of Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, there are 5 main ways to tackle the conflict and see it resolved, for better or worse.
1. Ignoring or Avoiding. As its name suggests, in this approach, a conflict is ignored with the hope that it will somehow settle down without intervention. It may help once, but usually, this approach only aggravates the problem and it becomes unmanageable.
2. Giving In Or Accommodating. With this approach, the conflict is somehow managed, but mainly at cost of one party that sacrifices own interests to appease the other side.
3. Compromising (Partial Satisfaction of Interests). This approach is more complex but plausible because it partially eliminates the roots of the conflict. In a compromise, both conflicting sides have their interests accounted for, at least partially.
4. Collaboration (Full Satisfaction of Interests). The ideal approach to conflict resolution, because in collaboration, the interests of conflicting parties are accounted for in full. That is, the root of the conflict is removed completely with attention to all nuances.
5. Competition (Win-Lose Approach). The opposite side of the scale, where instead of giving in, you as a person interested in conflict resolution, push to get your interests satisfied in full at the expense of the other party.
Each of the listed approaches is a real strategy applied by various people in their daily activities.
Although it may seem that collaboration or compromising should be strived for in any situation, actually, various strategies can be applied with positive outcomes. Accommodating can work when the conflict needs to be settled fast and your losses are not that significant to impact your state of mind of productivity. Or to the contrary: when you know that the other party is wrong in their claims, competitive behavior on your part can help restore the justice, so to say, and establish fairer routines that will prevent such conflicts in the future.
Anyway, good conflict resolution skills will be of use to you or your team, no matter what strategy you will opt for.
5 Steps Of Dealing With A Conflict When The Goal Is To Collaborate Or At Least Compromise
Similarly, no matter what strategy you will apply, it will include 5 essential steps of resolution. Master them well to know how to start and finish successful conflict management.
1. Deal with the conflict itself, not with people. It is not your family, it is a team of different people who have to solve problems together, so it is all about the problem. Speak strictly about the problem and do not let others speak in terms of personal insults or judgments.
2. Decide on a mediator (‘a judge’) – inherently a third party not related to sides of the conflict. You may feel that you can deal with everything, but sometimes the conflict just spirals out of control blocking the work of a whole organization. Hire a reputable mediator and entrust him or her with the task of settling the matter. But do not get withdrawn officially, your involvement can be necessary for many reasons. Be open to communications.
3. Get to grips with the problem. Find out the roots of the conflict that relate to the interests of parties. That is, why they choose this position and why they defend it strongly in a given situation.
4. Have all options in front of you. Do not rely on suggestions introduced by the conflicting parties from their viewpoints. Look at the conflict root and put yourself in their place. Sometimes it is recommended to ask employees to suggest how they would distribute the resources (for example) from the position of authority (if they were a boss). But: you are the head who sets the tasks. And it may transpire that you set unreasonable tasks with insufficient resources, just because you did not calculate well. Or you took some unreasonable decision and your employees have to face its consequences. So while deciding on the solution, first ask yourself what you ask of people, what you allocate to them to complete the task, and how it is distributed. Then you may see the solution from above, and this solution will not require anyone to give in.
5. Voice the suggested solution openly during a common meeting, so that no one felt left out, listen to suggestions, and get a clear verbal agreement to this solution from each party. You may even require creating a written agreement that lists the steps to take. Then any further bickering will lead to re-reading the list and complying with it.