Conflict is an inherent part of human interaction and is guaranteed to occur in a business environment. People will disagree. Whether it’s over the direction to take the business, who to hire, or just what place to order lunch from, conflict will occur from time to time.
Learning the fundamentals of a conflict management strategy can help you make a conscious decision about how you want to approach each conflict that arises in your business. This system of conflict management is designed to help resolve disputes in a way that reduces negative factors and results in a mutually beneficial outcome.
One of the key things that conflict management helps with is finding effective strategies for all types of conflicts. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, conflict management defines different types of conflicts and provides insights into how to develop custom approaches based on each unique situation.
Conflicts can differ significantly due to various factors, including the parties involved, the trigger for the conflict, and the importance of the conflict in relation to other conflicts.
Five main conflict management styles can be used to address different conflicts depending on the details of the conflict, your personal preferences, and your business goals.
These are the five conflict management styles with brief definitions, which we will go into further detail on below:
- Collaborative: Seeking a win-win solution through communication and prioritizing everyone’s satisfaction, this style is the most time-consuming but produces the most goodwill.
- Competitive: Taking a strong stance and refusing to compromise can sometimes resolve a conflict, but should not be overused.
- Accommodating: Putting the needs and desires of others ahead of your own to resolve the conflict.
- Avoiding: Reducing conflict by taking attention away from it or removing parties contributing to it.
- Compromising: Sometimes called lose-lose, this style requires each party to give up something to resolve a conflict.
Many people have preferred styles of conflict management. For example, some managers make a habit of squashing all dissent (competitive style), while others might be prone to giving in to everyone else’s preferences (accommodating style).
How you have resolved conflicts over the past year will likely give you some insight into your preferences.
When management repeatedly uses the same style to resolve conflicts, it can harm team dynamics and organizational culture. Managers who only use a competitive style when managing conflicts can be seen as authoritarian, while those who only use an accommodating style can seem like pushovers.
Building self-awareness among team members can help foster a more dynamic approach to conflict management in the organization. Helping individuals see their individual styles and the drawbacks of leaning too heavily on those styles is important for long-term company morale.
Collaborative conflict management style
In this style, the priority is to recognize each party’s desires and needs and to seek a solution that addresses them.
While it is not guaranteed that everyone will get everything they want, the goal is for all parties to leave happy with the solution. It’s an attempt to find a middle ground, a win-win, to achieve maximum satisfaction for all.
Collaborating style is the most likely to keep morale high over the long term—especially when considering essential issues and significant relationships that make a big difference to necessary parties. It is also essential for innovation. Addressing conflicting needs effectively often requires developing new solutions.
This can be a powerful style for conflict management, but keep in mind that it is also time-consuming. Some conflicts, especially those with lower stakes, do not warrant the effort required for collaboration.
To encourage a collaborating style in conflict resolution, it’s vital to demonstrate the importance of the outcome. For many, the collaboration and problem-solving process is challenging and not necessarily enjoyable, at least at first. Getting buy-in will likely require demonstrating how important the outcome will be.
Competitive conflict management style
This style is characterized by rejecting the views and desires of other parties in favor of your very own needs. When a manager requires specific actions from staff and will not accept any dissent, they are using competitive conflict management.
Taking a competitive stance can make a leader appear strong, but it does have drawbacks. Used too liberally, it can foster resentment. Sometimes it is necessary, though. At times, unpopular decisions are the best choice for a business.
Even the best managers sometimes have to use a competing style to resolve conflicts. It’s one of the burdens of leadership. The key is to use it sparingly.
Accommodating conflict management style
Accommodating to resolve conflict is quite common in and outside of the business world. It can seem like a natural solution to manage conflicts whenever one party feels strongly about an issue and the other party doesn’t care as much. It can also feel like the best choice whenever one party knows that they are in the wrong or that they don’t feel they are likely to win the argument.
When you concede to the needs and desires of others by accommodating them, it can quickly resolve a conflict and allow you to move on to other matters. It’s a valuable style in that way.
For example, if a customer is demanding a refund and the priority is moving the customer along so you can help another, accommodating their request might be the easiest solution.
Be careful not to lean on this style too heavily, though. Accommodating others too consistently can make it difficult to set boundaries when dealing with more important situations.
Avoiding conflict management style
Avoiding conflict has benefits in certain situations. Perhaps the conflict is unimportant to you—such as what type of flowers to purchase for a going away party. Or, maybe putting off the conflict can give the parties time to calm down.
Avoidance is only an appropriate style for bigger issues in the short term. The longer you use avoidance, the bigger the challenges can become with significant conflicts. If you need to use avoidance for significant conflicts, set a timeline for revisiting the issue and use a more comprehensive conflict management style in the future.
Compromising conflict management style
When compromising, each party is required to let go of some of their desires to reach an agreement. Compromise is faster than collaboration but can lead to resentment when used too often.
One effective use of compromise is to reach a quicker short-term agreement due to time constraints, but then to come back later and attempt collaboration.
Sometimes, compromise is sufficient for a conflict. Compromising about the song choices for the company party is acceptable because the stakes are fairly low. Compromising on the company healthcare plan is more significant, though, and is likely worth the extra collaboration effort.
Selecting the appropriate style for the situation
The most skilled at conflict management have a knack for selecting the appropriate style for handling conflicts in each situation. It’s a skill that can be learned with practice.
To choose the right style, it’s important to first assess the nature and severity of the conflict. As discussed in some of the examples above, faster styles like avoiding and compromising are often sufficient when the conflict is less severe and the stakes are lower.
If it’s a conflict that many are not heavily invested in, less demanding styles can be ideal. When the stakes are high, it’s usually better to put more effort into reaching a solution everyone is satisfied with, such as through collaboration.
It can also be helpful to consider the individuals involved and their preferred conflict management styles. When you know the styles they favor, you can choose to either encourage their natural tendencies or remind them to consider other styles depending on the details of the conflict.
Training and development for effective conflict management
Conflict management is a practice that anyone can learn—and there are workshops and training modules that can help. There are obvious benefits to upper-level management having a firm grasp of conflict management styles and strategies. But everyone in your organization can learn more about their own preferred conflict resolution styles and the advantages offered by using other styles.
The better trained your team is in different conflict management styles, the better they will be able to resolve future conflicts more effectively. Since conflicts are inevitable, this kind of training and development is guaranteed to yield benefits to your organization.
Beyond conflict management training, you can use your knowledge of this practice to develop a company culture that encourages conflict resolution. Prioritizing active listening and open communication is a good start. You can also lead the way by demonstrating conflict management skills in action as each new conflict arises in your business.
Evolving perspectives on workplace conflict and its resolution
Conflict management offers a fresh perspective on workplace conflict and how to address it. Everyone has their preferred styles of conflict management, but the best leaders know how to step outside their comfort zone and use the right style for the right situation.
Whether it’s avoiding minor conflicts to save energy, using a competing style to take a firm stance, or going deep into collaboration to produce meaningful outcomes, conflict management styles offer individualized solutions that deliver optimal results over time.
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