A unique combination of nature, nurture and life experiences means that every one of us sees the world from a different perspective. Not only do we form different opinions about the world around us, but we also react to events and the circumstances that surround us differently. The result of this, particularly in stressful situations or when the stakes are high… is conflict.
Our working environment can and often is the perfect breeding ground for conflict to take hold. An ever more competitive environment, tighter deadlines, higher targets, smaller budgets and opposing departmental objectives are some of the many sparks that can ignite the ‘conflict flame’. So with conflict being such an inevitable part of working life, it’s important as a leader to recognise your role in it and your responsibilities to manage and resolve it.
Long-time experts in the field of conflict management – Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann found that the way we deal with conflict can be determined by measuring our assertiveness against our willingness to cooperate. From here they came up with 5 conflict management styles, each with their own positive and negative attributes. As a leader, can you recognise your approach to conflict in one of the conflict management styles listed below?
Assertive and uncooperative, this person pursues his/her own concerns at the expense of others. If you fall into this category, you’ll do everything in your power to win whether it’s pulling rank, shouting the loudest, intimidating your competition or imposing marshal law. A competing person will stand up for his or her rights and vigorously defend a position which he or she believes to be correct.
Unassertive and cooperative, this person is the complete opposite of the above. When accommodating, the individual neglects his or her own concerns to satisfy the concerns of other people. Accommodating might take the form of selfless generosity or charity, obeying another person’s order when you would prefer not to, or yielding to another’s point of view.
Unassertive and uncooperative. This person neither pursues his or her own concerns nor those of other individuals. They would rather not deal with the conflict at all. An ‘avoiding’ person is likely to diplomatically sidestep issues, postponing them to a better time, or simply withdraw completely from a threatening situation.
Both assertive and cooperative, this person is the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborators attempt to work with others to find a solution that fully satisfies their concerns. It means digging into an issue to pinpoint the underlying needs and wants of the opposing parties. Collaborating with two people might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights or trying to find a creative solution to an interpersonal problem.
Moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. This person wants to find a mutually acceptable solution for both sides. The challenge with this is that neither of the opposing sides get what they want and compromising across the board could mean compromising on the success of a project in its entirety.
Did you recognise yourself from the five options above?
Conflict can be crippling for any organisation and because we all react differently to it, learning how to manage conflict proactively and mediate it when it arises, is hugely important. As a conflict management expert and professional mediator with over 15 years’ experience, I can help your organisation to recognise the symptoms of conflict and to transform conflict from a source of pain to an engine for communication, understanding and productivity.
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