As a leader, you may encounter a situation where you experience conflict with an employee.
What do we actually mean by conflict? It can range from a difference of opinion right up to a world-war (and everything in between, of course).
Conflict is the end result of a disagreement between two parties. One party things/feels one thing or takes one position, the other sees it from a different perspective.
So what can you do when faced with this situation that might end up with conflict occurring and how can you approach it so it doesn’t get out of hand?
When in confrontation with a person you may be finding difficult to get along with, ask yourself four questions:
#1 How is my personal belief system creating a picture of the situation?
#2 How is his or her personal belief system creating a picture of the situation?
#3 What questions can I ask this person that will clarify my understanding of their version of the truth (their belief system)?
#4 What information can I give that will help them clarify their understanding of my version of the truth (my belief system)?
Now, asking these questions will help you see things from a different perspective, identifying first of all what you are personally gaining from holding your particular point of view.
Then, by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, you identify their perspective, and the quality questions you ask will help you achieve this goal.
By explaining your view to the other person so they can see your view, both of you are now in a position to look for solutions, rather than digging in to you own positions, unwilling to compromise or collaborate with the other.
Following these questions will clarify the disagreement before they become matters of conflict and help you both focus on finding answers because of understanding each others’ views.
This is one area that managers are concerned about, mainly because conflict within team members often appears to be very personal and can affect morale very deeply. What causes it and how can you deal with it?
Firstly, why does it happen?
The main reasons for conflict appear to be:
• Disagreements over responsibilities (who should do what)
• Disagreements over policy (how things should be done)
• Conflicts of personality and style
These are some of the ways we typically deal with conflict.
Do you see yourself in any of them?
• Avoid the conflict.
• Deny it exists; wait until it goes away.
• Change the subject.
• React emotionally; become aggressive, abusive, in denial or frightening.
• Find someone to blame.
• Make excuses.
• Delegate the situation to someone else.
Can you imagine the results if this is allowed to continue?
What would happen to trust, morale, teamwork and efficiency?
This is why it’s important to deal with conflict within the team before it blows out of proportion.
Factors That Affect How People Manage Conflict
Some of the factors that affect how we behave in the face of conflict are:
• Status: People in higher-status positions usually feel freer to engage in conflict and are less likely to avoid confrontation.
• Gender differences: Males are generally encouraged to be more confrontational than females.
• Learned behaviours: In some teams, conflict and confrontation are a communication style. In others, conflict always remains hidden.
Conflict Resolution Skills
Conflict resolution is a set of skills that can be learned. Firstly we’ll look at how you can understand the conflict through effective listening skills, then we’ll look at ways to deal with it.
Improve your Listening Skills
By listening actively, you show a level of understanding of the situation without casting judgement. You are also able to identify the emotions that have brought about the situation in the first place.
People in conflict often get emotional, so your role is to see through the emotions by really listening to the real issues, rather than the person’s opinions or judgements.
Your responses should be made up of two parts:
(1) naming the feeling that the other person is conveying, and
(2) stating the reason for the feeling.
Here are some examples of active-listening statements:
“It sounds like you’re upset by Jenny’s remarks.”
“So, you’re angry about the mistakes Pat made. Is that correct?”
“I get the feeling you have different expectations on this project to Mike”
Notice that you just state the facts, as you see it, rather than judging the feeling.
Remember, actively listening is not the same as agreement. It is a way of demonstrating that you intend to hear and understand another’s point of view.
• It feels good when another person makes an effort to understand what you are thinking and feeling.
• Restating what you’ve heard, and checking for understanding, promotes better communication and produces fewer misunderstandings.
• Responding with active listening has a calming effect in an emotional situation.
Actions to deal with conflict
I’m sure you’ve seen conflicts escalate and cause even more problems, so what can you do to heighten your chances of dealing with conflict?
• Use “I” and “me” statements; “you” statements sound accusatory and blaming
• Avoid name-calling and put-downs (“Any logical person could see that…”).
• Soften your tone.
• Take a time-out (“Let’s take a break and cool down”).
• Acknowledge the other person’s point of view (agreement is not necessary).
• Avoid defensive or hostile body language (rolling eyes, crossing arms in front of body, tapping foot).
• Be specific and factual; avoid generalities.
Can you avoid conflict?
Is there a way you could avoid conflict in the first place, so you don’t have to go through all this pain? Some ideas may include:
• Handle situations as they are occurring, rather than allowing them time to fester and gain momentum.
• Become aware of what sets off conflict in your area. What touchpoints do you notice that causes people to have minor disagreements that build into exasperation, then full blown conflict?
• Coach everyone in the team on how to deal with conflict if it’s an issue. Prevention is always better than cure
By building conflict-handling skills within yourself and your team, you create better chances of nipping this potential motivation-killer in the bud.