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Playbook

Using Conflict Management to Your Advantage in the Workplace

October 24, 2017

Conflict management

Conflict is a part of our everyday lives, and that makes it difficult to avoid. Although we can’t always control our exposure to conflict in our professional and personal lives, we can approach conflict management in a way that makes the difference between a positive and a negative outcome.

In the workplace, conflict among employees may create a hostile environment and hinder communication and collaboration. It can also affect your reputation as a leader. By understanding how to skillfully manage conflict, you can negate its negative effects and even have it work to your advantage. Here’s some advice to guide this effort from AMA’s Conflict Management Workshop:

The benefits of conflict management in the workplace

You may associate conflict with its potential for negative consequences. However, it can be productive when it is managed effectively. Consider these distinctions:

When is conflict destructive?

  • Communication breaks down.
  • Relationships are impacted.
  • Regular activities are disrupted.
  • Individuals become rigid in their positions.
  • Winning becomes the desired goal.
  • Disengagement occurs.
  • It causes undue stress.
  • It creates a toxic environment.
  • People outside of the conflict are impacted.

When can conflict be productive?

  • There is forward movement in communication, processes, and procedures.
  • Those involved are comfortable with the disagreement and agree to disagree.
  • It acts as a motivator for change (to do something differently or better as a result).
  • It breaks down communication barriers.
  • People develop a better understanding of one another.
  • The side effects do not create lasting damage for the individuals involved and those around them.

Steps for conflict resolution

How can you deal with conflict effectively to promote a positive impact? The key is conflict management. To resolve a conflict and achieve your desired goal, you must be well-prepared for the interaction with the person you wish to address. Here are some strategies you can use:

Use conflict management techniques to develop your conflict awareness skills. These steps will help you identify conflict and gain some clarity about the situation:

  • Identify the root of the conflict.
  • Identify what is at stake for you. Assess the risk you’re taking through your choice of addressing or not addressing the issue.
  • Identify what is at stake for the other person.
  • Assess how you are currently handling the situation.

Create an environment for conflict resolution. This environment should be fairly neutral and let the other party/parties know that you want to find some type of resolution or agreement to move forward.

Develop your conflict management strategy. Keep these points in mind to create an effective strategy:

  • Use “I-messages” rather than “You-messages.”
  • Avoid “always” and “never” statements. These are exaggerations and rarely true.
  • Consider what you know about the other person in terms of personality and behavior. Think about your relationship and history with the person and his or her communication style and general behavior patterns. This will also help you anticipate potential reactions.
  • Consider what you need to talk about. Identifying the central issue will keep you focused and prevent you from slipping into other matters. Take care to communicate your concern in a clear, specific, and neutral way.
  • Make sure you focus on behavior, not personality.

Be clear about your desired outcome. Be honest with yourself and others about how you propose to resolve the issue. Think about possible reactions or responses the other person may have. Consider how you might respond to these reactions in a manner that promotes your goal and conflict resolution.

Managing conflict is a skill that can be enhanced through thoughtful deliberation and practice. Effectively managing conflict can enhance relationships, improve communication, and build trust.

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About The Author

Tammy Swed is a learning solutions manager at American Management Association, responsible for business excellence for women and training seminars.

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