The good news is that conflict is necessary for growth, development and success. The bad news is that in the moment, conflict rarely feels good.
There are a variety of conflict-management styles that allow effective communication at work and home. The conflict-management style that is your default is likely one you have learned at home or while growing up. The challenge is to have enough self-awareness to effectively assess whether your individual conflict-management style is productive.
From many years of therapy and executive coaching, I have learned that each of us has an inner child, or an underdeveloped shadow persona, and sometimes that inner child experiences conflict with others’ inner child.
Other times, we have deep philosophical differences about vision or the path for executing a vision. Yet still, I have been taught that people come into our lives – again whether at work, home or a social organization – to teach us areas in which we need to grow. Therefore, conflict is inescapable.
4 Conflict Management Styles for Effective Communication at Work
For effective communication at work, I recommend the following styles to successfully manage conflict:
1. Be Proactive
In crisis communications, I often counsel clients and colleagues that before a situation develops into a full-blown crisis, there are frequently warning signs. Failure to observe and act on red flags and warning signs leads to crises.
To appropriately address conflict in the workplace, I recommend leaders and staff be as proactive and preemptive as possible. The moment you get a sense that something is off, investigate.
Alternatively, if you believe a problem is lurking, preemptively address it. Change course. Choose a different path. The worst thing you can do is pretend that a fire is not a fire or that an ember doesn’t have the potential to get bigger if stoked.
2. Be Clear
We have all heard the feedback of sandwiching negative feedback between two positives. I am not sure how I feel about this recommendation because it can lead to confusion. If there is a conflict in the workplace, lovingly but directly outline the problem. Do not wait until the point you are frustrated, because that is counterproductive. I have made this mistake countless times.
Out of a concern for other people’s feelings, I have remained silent only to reach a tipping point of frustration. When I finally unloaded what I was feeling, it was overwhelming and, in certain cases, destructive. Had I been willing to tell the truth earlier, I could have offered it in a way that was constructive and helpful.
State specifically what you are experiencing and the impact it has on you, the team and the organization. There should never be confusion. If you work in an environment where being direct is not valued, you will need to weigh what is more important: falling in line or being effective.
3. Make a Request
When you experience conflict at work, be sure to make a specific behavior request you’d like to see changed. In addition to outlining how a person’s actions may have impacted you, help the person by citing a specific request for what he or she can do going forward.
If your conversations start and stop on what a person has done wrong, that individual will have no way to make it better and could end up either resenting you or avoiding you if the person do not know how to change.
Outline how you the other person’s actions have affected you and then make a corresponding request, such as:
“It bothers me when you speak to me this way, and I’d like to ask you not to use profanity when we engage with one another.”
“This is a little awkward, but I value our working relationship and I’d like to share something with you. I have noticed that you are routinely late for meetings. This interrupts my schedule, and it also leads me to believe you do not value our time together. Can we make an agreement that you will be on time for all meetings or that our meeting is canceled if you are more than eight to 10 minutes late?”
4. Understand When to Accommodate and When to Dig In
Fellow Lifehack.org writer, Margaret Olatunbosun, notes that among the many conflict-management styles are avoidance, accommodation, compromise and collaboration.
Avoidance is when you refuse to confront and deal with a challenge. Accommodation is when you seek to accommodate others’ wishes and desires, even at the exclusion of your own needs and preferences. Compromise is when each side offer and accepts mutual concessions, and collaboration occurs when both parties seek a win-win arrangement versus a win-at-all-costs one.
Depending on the conflict at work, you will choose one of these conflict-management styles. If there is an ethics lapse or a situation involving abuse or harassment, you shouldn’t seek to compromise with the responsible party; instead, you’ll want to dig in your heels and take corrective action to ensure a safe and supportive work environment.
The point is to develop the wisdom and acumen to know which strategy to employ in various situations.
3 Powerful Conflict Management Strategies
Now that you understand the conflict-management styles that support effective communication, let’s look at a few strategies that will support your professional development and growth.
1. Seek First to Understand
When I am working with new clients and colleagues, I emphasize the importance of them developing a relationship with the media. I believe it is much harder to critique others or take them out of context when you know them.
The same is true in the workplace. When you have a disagreement, try to genuinely understand the other party’s point of view. Try to understand what makes the person an individual; know the person’s backstory and personal narrative.
When you understand the individual, you are less likely to get defensive over every perceived slight. Further, you understand that conflicts are rarely about a current situation but are about the culmination of challenges.
2. Pray for the Person with Whom You’re Having Conflict
Without fail, it is difficult to maintain a grudge or see the humanity in others when you pray for them. I am not going to tell you this is easy. When someone triggers or upsets you, the last thing many of us want to do is expend energy sending the person good thoughts or well wishes.
I once worked with a colleague who was incredibly dismissive and known for not responding to emails, phone calls or text messages. In addition to being non-responsive, the team member was rude. I worked with him for years and deeply disliked his lack of accountability. At some point, our relationship reached a tipping point, and I actively prayed either he or I would find a new job.
Someone suggested that I pray for him. It felt odd at first to pray for someone who was making my life difficult. But I persisted. Then suddenly, I developed a genuine concern and understanding for my colleague. I grew sympathetic toward him. This allowed me to put our differences in context and develop a better working relationship with him.
3. Try to Speak the Person’s Language
Communication is one of the most powerful skills in the universe. Through language, you can create or decimate worlds. Through language, you can acquire a friend or make a lifelong enemy. In his book Words that Work, Frank Luntz underscores the importance of anticipating what others hear based on word choice.
If you are trying to influence a person or resolve a conflict, speak the other person’s language. And no, I don’t mean literally. I mean, speak in a way that increases the likelihood that the person with whom you are engaging will feel heard and respected.
The Bottom Line
Conflict management is probably one of the most important skill sets in both professional and personal environments. The people who can confront conflict head on and work through it without burning bridges will enjoy positive relationships and career success.
Here’s to hoping this article improves your ability to navigate the world, one conflict at a time.
More Resources About Workplace Communication
- 7 Most Important Communication Techniques to Master in the Workplace
- How to Work with Different Communication Styles in the Office
- How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way
- 11 Tips on How to Resolve (Almost) Any Conflict in the Workplace
- The Art of Building Relationships You Need to Succeed in Your Career
- How a Lack of Communication Can Drastically Impact Your Career
- How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home