Unresolved Conflict Can Damage Teamwork
As a child, arguing with our friends or siblings seemed like a necessary part of life. Confrontations about board games and sporting events were usually resolved in minutes and everyone quickly recovered.
Now, as a career professional, the stakes are higher when we encounter conflict. Conflict in the workplace is impossible to avoid, and unless it’s handled effectively, the results can be damaging to good teamwork.
In the 70s, theorists Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified these five conflict styles, which help explain an individual’s degree of cooperation and assertiveness:
- Competitive: People who tend toward a competitive style take a firm stand and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power, drawn from things such as position, rank, expertise or persuasive ability.
- Collaborative: People tending towards a collaborative style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important.
- Compromising: People who prefer a compromising style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, and the compromiser also expects to relinquish something.
- Accommodating: This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person’s own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted.
- Avoiding: People tending toward this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Understanding our own style and identifying others’ can often help us set the tone to resolve conflict quicker and easier.
In addition to identifying styles, following these simple rules can temper conflict before it’s out of control:
Make sure that good relationships are the first priority.
As far as possible, make sure that you treat the other calmly and that you try to build mutual respect.
Keep people and problems separate.
Recognize that in many cases the other person is not just “being difficult” – real and valid differences can lie behind conflictive positions.
Pay attention to the interests that are being presented.
By listening carefully you’ll most likely understand why the person is adopting his or her position.
Listen first; talk second.
To solve a problem effectively you have to understand where the other person is coming from before defending your own position.
Set out the facts.
Agree and establish the objective, observable elements that will have an impact on the decision.
Explore options together.
Be open to the idea that a third position may exist, and that you can get to this idea jointly.
Once a conflict has escalated and is affecting office team cohesion and decision-making abilities, the time may be right to engage professional mediators. Resolving conflict is often difficult and time consuming. Engaging a positive approach, listening carefully and exploring the issue’s facts will build a team’s cohesion and lead to future success.
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