How to Resolve Organizational Conflict

Organizational ConflictIn both our personal and work lives, conflict is inevitable. Although some of us may try, it is impossible to avoid. It is perfectly natural to want to avoid conflict. It feels bad, and avoiding it is hardwired into our brains. However, conflict can be a productive business tool. It can generate organizational change and allow for the growth and evolution of a company.

To help us understand conflict better and help improve our conflict resolution skills, Claudette Rowley of Metavoice Coaching and Consulting stopped by to give us the rundown. Since founding Metavoice in 2000, she has coached and consulted internationally, guiding professionals, corporations and non-profits through collaborative, strengths-based strategic planning, team building and leadership development processes. She specializes in teaching and training people to develop the self-awareness, perspectives and skills to communicate, resolve conflict and lead successfully. She left us with some awesome advice on conflict resolution.

Five Conflict-Handling Modes

There are five different ways people handle conflict. The first step to understanding conflict is understanding these five methods. It is important to note that no one method of handling conflict is best. Each method has certain situations in which it is ideal to use and not as ideal.

Competing – assertive, uncooperative, and power-oriented. This person pursues his or her own concerns at the expense of others.

Collaborating – assertive, cooperative. This person attempts to work with the other person to find a solution that fully satisfies both parties. Collaborating might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights, or collaborating to solve an interpersonal problem.

Compromising – intermediate in assertiveness and cooperativeness. This person tries to find a mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. Compromising might mean splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or seeking a fast, middle-ground solution.

Avoiding – Unassertive, uncooperative. This person does not immediate pursue his concerns or the concerns of the other party. This person avoids the conflict.

Accommodating – Unassertive, cooperating. This is the opposite of a competing. They neglect their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person. Accommodating might take the form of selfless generosity, yielding to another’s point of view, or obeying another person’s order when you don’t want to.

Preparation Process

There are four steps you should take before you enter into a conflict to help you successfully resolve the conflict.

Step 1: Understand your emotions. You must understand what your conflict tendencies are, what triggers you emotionally, and what your emotions are towards the current conflict.

Step 2: Assess your assumptions about intent. What are you assuming about the other person, yourself or the conflict that you don’t actually know is true? Be aware of these. Also, what do you assume is true that you don’t know as fact?

Step 3: Put yourself in others’ shoes. Try to understand what the other person is thinking or feeling. Don’t make assumptions about them; just get curious about what they might be thinking. Notice your own reaction to this. Do you feel empathy for them, or feel the same? Do you recognize they may have a point, or do you better understand what might be important to them?

Step 4: Identify your interests. What is important to you? What would a successful outcome look like to you?

Communication Skills

After you’ve prepared, the next step is to engage in the conflict. Here are some things to remember when you’re in the conflict:

Key Communication Skills: Listen and acknowledge everyone. Give each party the opportunity to tell their story. Identify interests, needs and priorities. Ask open-ended questions to probe and clarify. Stay as neutral as possible. Acknowledge emotions rather than acting on them.

Clarify Agreements, Differences and Options: Look for areas of agreement and clarify areas of difference. Brainstorm options for resolution and mutual gain.

Determine Objective Criteria: In doing so, there are three questions to ask. How will you know when the conflict is resolved? How will you know that it’s staying resolved? Who will document agreement and by when?

If You’re Stuck

If you’ve followed the advice given above and still can’t reach an agreement, here is a few more things to try:

  • Refrain from blaming, defensiveness and criticism
  • Name your experience—“This is what I’m experiencing now, this is how I feel…”
  • Reframe the conversation toward interests or options
  • Take a break and reconvene at an agreed upon time
  • Get a neutral third party if needed

By following these conflict resolution methods, you’ll be sure to successfully resolve your next conflict.