A Guide to Conflict Management for Leaders
The best leaders neutralize workplace conflicts, ensuring their team doesn’t lose sight of the company’s long-term goals. Leaders often deal with conflicts with clients, employees, and other stakeholders. A strong ability to manage such conflicts can help a leader succeed. I used to fear that conflicts would grow in my team if I didn’t address them immediately. Now, I’ve learned two things:
- Focusing on preventing workplace conflicts can be a waste of time. Human beings are social creatures, and we’re bound to clash over differences.
- Conflicts aren’t necessarily as bad as we fear them to be. Conflicts can be growth opportunities, provided they are handled well.
After I learned how to manage conflict, my approach toward it completely changed.
What is Conflict Management?
Conflict management is tackling disputes and the lack of consensus between individuals or groups. The purpose of conflict management in a workplace is to learn to deal with disagreements effectively before they escalate into large disputes. When conflict management styles bring team members together, they can find common ground and work towards a solution. Consider your conflict management style successful once you reach a mutually acceptable decision, whether through compromise, mediation, or collaboration. Solving all fights and issues with the same conflict management style is impossible. You should be equipped with diverse conflict management tricks to judge and resolve each situation accordingly. To become an expert at conflict management, instill the following values in your team:
- A growth mindset to encourage deriving a lesson out of every situation
- A non-defensive attitude during arguments
- Mindful listening to hear and process all perspectives
- Emotional intelligence to empathize with everyone
- Civil discourse to understand the disagreements
You must also find a balance between your assertive and collaborative reactions. Your initial response to disputes at the workplace should be determined by how assertive vs. collaborative you need to be in each case. This process will ensure smooth reactions in all situations.
5 Styles of Conflict Management
Leaders must have basic conflict management skills to tackle all kinds of conflicts. Different conflict management styles are employed depending on the gravity of the situation and the nature of disputes. Some conflict-management strategies prioritize interpersonal relationships over any other factor involved. Let’s familiarize ourselves with my top five go-to conflict management styles:
- Accommodating style
- Avoiding style
- Compromising style
- Competing style
- Collaborating style
These are the components of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. It’s one of the most effective teamwork-improving tools available to help you establish conflict grounds and guide conflict resolution through negotiation techniques.
- Accommodating Style
The Accommodating Style is best for conflicts that aren’t too big and when time is of the essence. If you don’t think a dispute is worth your time, energy, and effort, you can resolve it by readjusting your side. It might seem like you’re losing your ground by simply letting things be, but it’s quite effective for smaller conflicts. You accommodate the other person’s perspective and compromise your interests. This reduces the risk of straining your relationship with a team member. For all the times when you don’t want to be assertive and just need to resolve an issue immediately, go for the accommodating style. Pros: This conflict management approach allows you to solve problems immediately and project yourself as a decisive and empathetic leader. Cons: You should not try this technique to solve bigger problems without considering all sides of the issue.
- Avoiding Style
The Avoiding Style of conflict management involves putting off dispute resolution until necessary. It can be smart to put off resolution for small conflicts until you’ve run out of other options. This conflict management style works great when the involved parties need some distance from the subject. You let them cool off and then start a discussion to resolve issues. This will give them the time to gain perspective and headspace to have an open dialogue. Pros: Employees respect their manager more when the boss adopts an avoiding style. Time and distance can work as great healers. Cons: If you avoid problems and their consequences, they won’t disappear. Some employees may see you as weak or ineffective if you delay dealing with situations instead of facing them head-on.
- Compromising Style
The Compromising Style is a win-win situation. Both parties aren’t adamant about their perspective, and they are capable of reaching a mutually-agreed decision. This is a simple conflict management style when both sides are willing to put in the effort and find a solution before proceeding with further work. The compromising style is commonly used when both sides have valid arguments. The project can be benefitted from both ideas if only they compromise a little on their ends. This conflict management style involves putting relationships above all else, and disagreements take a back seat. However, this technique is not ideal for legal situations or industry compliance. If compromising can stir widespread discontent, there will be no point in using this method. Pros: Compromise creates a strong foundation for relationships. The decisions are made quickly, and both sides have a part of their demands met in the process. Cons: Even though both parties make sacrifices, one party may feel exploited during negotiating. This can create resentment and anger in some employees.
- Competing Style
When it’s time to put your foot down and make a decision, the Competing Style offers a straightforward approach. It doesn’t weigh other people’s opinions and values and makes self-interest a priority. This conflict management style is ideal when you’ve already decided and don’t want to debate. Competing Style is a conflict management tool that involves holding your stance against all odds and refusing to budge, even when others disagree. It is best used when making a firm decision beyond popular consensus. Pros: When you make a firm decision, it reflects your competence and courage. You can use this move to create a good first impression, but only after considering all other factors. Cons: The biggest drawback of this method is you risk a bad reputation if your decision is wrong. You will also seem like a tyrant who doesn’t listen to the people around you, but your decision yields excellent results despite this drawback.
- Collaborating Style
The Collaborating Style of conflict resolution relies on factoring in the concerns and requirements of all parties involved. It also involves clear communication and mindful listening so managers can create a win-win situation and resolve workplace conflicts. This style demands more time and energy investment, but the results are worth it. Reaching a solution requires hours of dialogue and meetings, but that conclusion is most effective. This should be the ideal conflict resolution tool for new managers who want to foster a collaborative environment. Pros: Everyone is happy, laying the foundation for a strong and collaborative relationship. Cons: It is a long process and requires great commitment. It can be difficult to take time and energy out for collaborative conflict resolution from our busy schedules.
Test Your Knowledge of Conflict Management
What’s your go-to conflict management style? Take a simple quiz to find out. In this quiz, the rate on a scale of 1 to 5 is based on how strongly you resonate with the following actions. One is least likely, and five indicates you’re most likely to follow suit.
- I can analyze all aspects of a conflict and understand all points of view.
- I believe in myself and enjoy presenting my case until I win.
- I don’t feel good during conflicts. I actively ignore them.
- I prefer discussions during a conflict to reach a solution.
- I always look for a middle ground in conflicts.
- I won’t disrupt peace just to argue and get my way.
- I don’t waste time in conflicts. I fix a problem and move on.
- I keep my disagreements to myself instead of sharing.
- I take great satisfaction in winning a conflict.
- I don’t want to waste my energy in arguments when I agree and relax.
- I don’t like to stay near conflicts.
- I’m happy to negotiate with people, so everyone wins.
- I want to stand true to everyone’s expectations.
- I believe it’s best to keep talking until we resolve a conflict.
- I know I’m right, and I’ll stand by it until everyone realizes it.
Tally your scores to see the conflict management style you tend to rely on on:1, 4, and 14 are collaborative styles3, 8, and 11 are avoiding styles6, 10, and 13 are accommodating styles2, 9, and 15 are competing for styles5, 7, and 12 are compromising styles
Civil Discourse as a Method to Manage Conflicts
Besides conflict management styles and techniques, I actively practice civil discourse in my personal and professional life. I define civil discourse as a productive dialogue exchange where people mindfully entertain diverse opinions and stay respectful. Civil discourse's real essence is understanding everyone’s perspective without preconceived notions coloring our judgment. By mastering this clever art of agreeing to disagree, you stand by your perspectives while respecting everyone else’s opinions. This approach has helped me create a dynamic team, launch successful start-ups, and clear grave internal conflicts. Here are some of my tried and tested civil discourse principles:
- Listen actively
Civil discourse is not a veiled attempt to change people’s minds. Passive listening and nodding are not conducive to healthy communication, as they encourage more of the same from others; it’s all about expressing your opinion and listening to other perspectives. Practice patiently listening to someone else’s point of view and ask them to repeat if you miss anything. By mindfully listening to someone else, you make them feel heard and accepted.
- Be receptive to diverse opinions
It is human nature to be biased. I understand that my biases affect how I react to their comments and ideas when I am communicating with others. To keep an open mind and listen more intently, I remind myself that my cognitive bias is always at play.
- Convey value-adding opinions
Dialogue and debate are essential to civil discourse. However, it is crucial to understand that there is a difference between simply listening to others, having an open mind, and going back to square one.
- Be critical and accept criticism
Engaging in civil discourse doesn’t mean accepting others’ opinions without criticism. You can be critical of others’ ideas without using negative language. At the same time, prepare yourself to offer criticism even if you don’t receive it.
- Use assertive language with a regulated tone
I try to always be assertive in my language and moderate in my tone. All the participants listened attentively, responded to me, and considered my points. It can be tricky to ensure that you come across as confident and not utterly rude, so use polite gestures and body language to complement your confidence.
- Present facts and figures
Practice civil discourse and back up your arguments with facts and statistics to become more persuasive. Focus on explaining yourself instead of getting drawn into arguments and personal attacks.
- Demarcate your boundaries
While there are no hard and fast rules in civil discourse, you should define your boundaries at the start of any interaction. If certain topics are off-limits to you, disclose that early on. Remember that everyone has different limits and that everyone deserves respect.
A conflict is only negative when you don’t know how to make the best out of it. Conflicts and disputes present an opportunity to learn and open up lines of communication. Use this chance to recognize your team members’ motivations, understand their strengths, and develop a practice of civil discourse in your workplace. If some raging topics persist, follow the five effective conflict management styles:
- Accommodating style
- Avoiding style
- Compromising style
- Competing style
- Collaborating style
These techniques will help you move past conflicts and create your ideal workspace brimming with productivity, but keep in mind that conflict management is only temporary. When all the team members value mutual respect, awareness, transparency in communication, and mindful listening, every business conflict can be resolved permanently. Start today and strive to build a thriving community with values of civil discourse.