Conflicts are an inseparable element of the workplace. As long as you build your conflict management style to resolve conflicts efficiently and justly, conflicts are not unwelcome – they bring growth and expansion.
Your conflict management skills are an essential part of your leadership style.
People who best manage conflicts are appreciated for their communication skills and are open to discussing multiple viewpoints.
So, let’s find out how you cope with conflict at work!
Types of Conflict Management Styles
People don’t approach conflicts identically. Most have a pattern, and if you don’t practice self-awareness, conflict can be a hindrance.
According to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, you can handle conflict by accommodating, compromising, avoiding, competing, and collaborating. When dominating in your behavior, these ways of handling conflict are named “styles”.
So, what makes each of these styles unique, and how often do you use them? Before we get deeper into the conflict resolution styles, let’s look at the three most common types of conflict in the workplace.
Task conflict or conflict of understanding is a misunderstanding between parties in a group or an organization about how they reach decisions. Group members have different needs, behaviors, and attitudes about decisions, so they lack agreement about task assignments and completing projects.
Task conflict is also called cognitive conflict because parties disagree about performing a task, implementing a strategy, or reaching a decision.
An example of task conflict is when different team members think tasks should be allocated to different people or when there is task interdependence.
Relationship conflict is an emotional conflict that is hard to pin down to a specific action. Relationship conflicts cause annoyance or adversity between team members, making the group unproductive, low-performing, prone to stress and anxiety, and focused on managing difficult emotional relationships rather than creating value for the organization.
Relationship conflicts often brew under the surface but become visible through destructive behavior such as impolite remarks, ignoring or giving the “silent treatment”, not giving deserved credit, or undermining one’s effort.
Value conflict arises when people in a group have strong personal beliefs about sensitive topics, mostly related to culture, upbringing, and lifestyle.
Values are strong determinants of someone’s job success in an organization. If a person’s values are in conflict with the organizational values, they’re not a good match. Deciding whether to come back to the office or stay working at home is a value conflict example.
Conflict types are usually intertwined; rarely is a conflict isolated as a value conflict or a relationship conflict.
While some conflict resolution styles can be better suited to sort out a specific type of conflict, you need a good understanding of all of them to be able to manage high-performing virtual teams successfully.
What is Your Conflict Management Style?
Take a look at the characteristics of each conflict-handling style to reveal yours.
When you accommodate someone else, you usually put your own needs second.
Meeting someone else’s needs instead of your own is a positive conflict management style when your own need in the specific case is of low value and importance.
This is called an accommodating conflict management style.
Prioritizing others’ needs can resolve conflicts for unimportant topics or when you need to accommodate someone else’s authority, seniority, or expertise.
We can’t have all needs met in an organization. Many people forsake one’s need for “the greater good,” such as a team goal or an affiliation with an organization. It is helpful to be aware when you accommodate one need because you usually meet another that is often hidden in the background.
Not everyone likes compromise because they think compromise is a lose-lose situation. However, that is not the essence of the compromising conflict-handling style at the workplace. Resolving conflict by compromising means balancing out the need of both sides to come up with a solution that partially accommodates their needs.
If you have to solve a conflict with compromise as a manager, keep in mind that this style can be challenging and exhausting for you personally.
But compromise has many benefits such as:
- Putting the welfare of the organization first
- Reducing tension and stress
- Finding a temporary solution
- Airing grievances
- Empowering by voicing opinions
Compromising always requires some change but is seen by both parties as a fair conflict resolution style.
Avoiding a conflict is never a good solution in the long term. It can only serve as a temporary solution to buy time for issues of low importance. Make sure your dominant conflict management style is not avoidant. Avoiding vital points for a long time can worsen a relationship conflict or even completely ruin a project.
However, when the conflict threatens to harm greater value than the relationship, the avoidant style is the only prevention solution. Also, you can avoid a conflict when a more pressing issue is keeping you occupied.
Another situation is can be used as a conflict management strategy is when you are involved in a conflict that is not yours.
Taking the responsibility for someone’s harmful behavior can encourage the same in the future. Sometimes, it is best to escape from a conflict and let the parties involved in a conflict find a solution.
The competing conflict management strategy is beneficial when:
- You need to make quick important decisions during emergencies.
- Safety is a priority.
- You are absolutely sure you are right.
It is not hard to imagine that something is wrong if you persistently need to compete with your team. In solid teams, the competing style should be used as an exception. Competition is healthy as a driver as long as everyone is on board – for example when running a software project with known rules.
Employees expect guidance, mentorship, and coaching from the modern manager of the 21st-century workplace, which doesn’t go alongside the competition.
Two main characteristics of the collaborating conflict management style are assertiveness and collaboration.
Managers who practice collaboration take an active role to meet the needs of all sides in a conflict, confident that they will come to a solution to everyone’s satisfaction.
Collaboration is not the same as a compromise where all parties have the feeling of losing something. In contrast, this style creates a win-win situation for the involved and minimizes negative feelings.
The collaborating style values the relationship at stake and sees it as a separate entity from the conflict, aiming at preserving the relationship itself while trying to come up with a beneficial outcome for everyone.
Collaborating conflict resolution is most beneficial in long-term cooperation where the relationships and the organization as a whole matter.
What Your Conflict Handling Style Says About You as a Manager
Now that you know the prevalent types of conflict in the workplace and the usual resolution methods you can use, it is easy to see yourself as using one style more than the rest.
If you need to find a quick solution for a task, you may apply the competing style. If you have an important meeting ahead and two team members cannot agree on a goal, you may help them reach a temporary compromise. You may decide to accommodate a huge client because a significant portion of your revenue comes from their project.
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The important thing is to:
- Be aware of how you react to change your behavior if a particular style doesn’t work.
- Remember not to be afraid of conflict because conflict brings advantages:
- Adds new perspectives
- Builds your communication skills
- Improves relationships
- Teaches you active listening
- Identifies business growth opportunities
Having a versatile conflict management style is a tool you can access when unexpected disagreements prevent your team’s high performance or when you notice tension in relationships that sabotage productivity.
Finally, use your conflict management skills to set an example of how to eliminate obstacles in business and motivate your people to become better problem solvers, be it for the sake of task, relationship, or value conflict.
Don’t let lingering conflicts ruin your team’s performance.
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