Approaches to Conflict by Jim Johnson

How do you approach conflict at work?

  • I make sure I’m always right.
  • I don’t listen to other points of view.
  • I run for the hills.

We all experience conflict and we all tend to respond (react?) to it via our default approach.  And that could be good or bad.  What if you could choose the right approach for the right situation?  That’s what Dr. Gaylen Paulson (Univ. Texas) suggests.  He points out various styles in a manager’s approach to conflict.

To preface, Dr. Paulson states that many times choosing a style is dependent upon our own personal preferences.  We’re just more comfortable with certain styles.  A lot of the time, our approach can be somewhat situational – different approaches are more appropriate in different situations.  He suggests that the best style depends on the situation – but there are upside and downsides to each of the styles.  Here they are:

1.        Compromise

Take caution here.  This approach can often lead to a lose-lose strategy and really is only good for one issue – not a habitual approach to conflict.  Compromise doesn’t lead to complex solutions and it can really come across as fair.  However, compromise can also communicate that you’re not really that concerned about the issue or the outcome.  Be careful not to be “seduced” by this quick solution.

2.        Accommodation

Here, relationships matter more than the material outcomes.  Dr. Paulson points out that there will be more time and energy required to reach this point in resolving conflict.  A manager could come across as too “soft” which can tarnish their reputation going forward.  And as a result of that, resentment – from others on your team – can build.  Accommodation can come across as favoritism.

3.        Avoidance

I had a leader once tell me that he really tried to avoid conflict after we were talking about a direct report of his who had been behaving badly. Their behavior was not kept in check and it negatively impacted the company.  I asked him, “So, how’s that working out for you?”

If you choose avoidance, this can also make you look like you don’t care about the issue or the person(s) involved.  Others will take note of your avoidance, too.  That’s not always positive.

However, Dr. Paulson states that sometimes the timing is always right to deal with this conflict.  Instead of jumping right in and battling it out, a manager needs to prepare for the conflict.  And that’s ok as long as it’s not habitual.

4.        Problem Solving

If all participants in the conflict are willing to cooperate, this can be an affective approach to resolving conflict.  Multiple issues are usually involved and, as such, this will take more time and effort on the manager’s part.  Dr. Paulson states that the manager must be patient and will to endure a struggle as the problems are communicated and worked through.

5.        Competing

Here, a manager is trying to get a quick decision.  He/She has all of the “high power players” assembled in a meeting to tackle the conflict.  Many times, this approach is used when there are unpopular decisions that have been made and there is a need for control.  This approach may not end in a heart-felt buy-in, but more of a agree-to-disagree – but then move forward as one.

When confronting and dealing with conflict, Dr. Paulson encourages managers to:

  • Understand their environment and team
  • Communicate your motives
  • Gather your evidence and be very specific
  • Focus on explicit behaviors that are clearly wrong – do not focus on the person, but the behaviors

As a manager, you are working to move your team and your company forward.  Conflict will happen.  How you deal with it will determine your ultimate success.

 

Failure + Excuses ≠ Success

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