Updated August 31, 2022
Times are changing, and stress levels ebb and flow with the unpredictability of the corporate world. You may have noticed that it’s taken a toll on relationships and interactions in the office. Well, that’s because the potential for conflict goes hand in hand with raised levels of stress in the workplace.
Have you ever had a dispute with a coworker? Or had to have an uncomfortable conversation where you didn’t know how to broach the subject? Or worse, have you already had that awkward discussion and now struggle to clear the air? It’s natural to have a difference of opinion with coworkers and even management; sharpening your conflict resolution skills could help calm the tension of disagreements and the after-effects.
Effectively resolving misunderstandings, conflicts, and lingering tension is essential for a healthy, confident, and growing work culture. So if you’ve ever been in any of the situations above, then the skill you should be developing is conflict resolution.
Disagreements should bring something useful to the table; After all, we may not be able to prevent heated exchanges and debates or disagreements from occurring, but the only ones capable of “winning” or “losing” in these discussions are those who can grow from it.
Before continuing onto what skills you’ll need to develop for effective conflict resolution, let’s first settle the theory. Contrary to what could be implied in its name, resolving conflict is a complex process with the sole and main purpose of finding a peaceful solution to a dispute. Ideally, the resolution should leave all parties equally satisfied.
The types of conflict, the reasoning, and the parties involved in it may vary; disputes may occur between individuals (co-workers, supervisors, associates, or clients) or between groups, such as management and their labor force, or entire departments.
To successfully resolve the conflict, parties can establish a mediator that will provide an outside perspective to help find a quicker and easier solution. The ability to resolve conflicts is highly valued and often seen as a leadership skill since it helps keep things flowing in a company.
Now that you know how important conflict resolution is, it’s time to dig deeper into what skills you should acquire to solve disagreements properly.
Your EQ, or emotional intelligence, reflects how well you understand and express your feelings. Being in tune with your emotions is helpful in difficult situations because it can affect the desired resolution. Conflicts in the workplace require professionals to act on reason rather than emotional impulse. You may be unable to dictate various aspects of any given disagreement, but you can still be aware and responsible for what only you can control.
Just think of how many minor problems have turned into big deals simply because someone’s point of view wasn’t considered? Take some time to acknowledge and respect the feelings of others involved in a conflict or dispute so that everyone can be on the same page about what problems need solving and how to find a common resolution.
As mentioned earlier, you may not be able to control the emotions of others, but you can definitely be aware and responsible for your own. Managing your emotions and expressing yourself professionally and respectfully shows your fellow team members that you’re capable of giving and receiving constructive feedback in a healthy and productive way.
Entering tense situations with a “tit for tat” mentality or leaving a dispute holding onto a grudge is typical of a toxic work environment. In most workplace conflicts, it may be best to discard personal sensitivities for a more professional approach. Consider going into every confrontation with the intent of resolving issues rather than an eye for an eye.
A conversation is a two-way street, which means listening is just as critical as speaking. How you listen can make or break your goals for peaceful resolutions. Giving everyone time and space to voice their feelings, opinion, and side of the story encourages a discussion rather than an argument. Think about how you listen and how you can improve your overall communication skills and conflict resolution skills.
Listening is more than simply being quiet as others are speaking. Practice active listening by taking the time to really absorb the information someone’s sharing with you, especially when attempting to smooth over a disagreement. Replace reactive responses for peaceful give and take so that resolutions and common ground can more easily be reached.
Read the room for verbal and non-verbal cues that can help you thoughtfully navigate stressful conversations. Because let’s face it, a lot can be said without ever opening one’s mouth. It may be obvious to state that when someone is agitated, laughter can escalate an already tense situation. That said, it may be beneficial to shift gears in your verbal approach if you see a team member reacting uncomfortably through their body language.
After taking in all of the information, where do you go from there? Problems don’t magically solve themselves. It takes careful consideration and negotiation strategies to reach a resolution. It’s important to understand that problem-solving is about just that, solving problems, not winning.
Reaching the bottom line of a dispute or disagreement between colleagues requires knowing what all parties need to achieve a mutual understanding. Compromising isn’t losing. It’s making sure that all parties involved can leave a workplace conflict feeling heard and valued. Try to find the middle-ground when dealing with issues so that everyone can benefit from a win-win turnout and get back to work.
Being resourceful and having the capacity for thoughtful, real-time solutions can make creative problem-solving a breeze, but that doesn’t mean it should fall on one person. When it comes to conflict resolution techniques, two heads can sometimes be better than one. Collaborate with team members for easier and faster resolutions. Let the best idea win, regardless of who came up with it.
After acquiring or developing your conflict resolution skills, it’s time to strategize some game plans to deal with the different types of disputes you could face. Here are some goals that’ll help you resolve conflicts effectively.
The whole idea of conflict resolution is to find a mutual agreement and a solution that benefits both parties. Though this isn’t easy, compromising will get you to this goal. Whether you’re the moderator or directly involved in the conflict, establish what’s the biggest interest and goal for both parties to be satisfied, and find a relationship between them. Of course, you should be willing to forfeit some of your conditions, but focusing on common interests will help in avoiding conflict and allow everyone to work together on a more permanent fix.
This is clearly a complementary strategy to the previous one. After discussing the situation and settling common interests, it’s time to work together to identify a satisfactory resolution for both parties. An essential aspect of this method is setting aside differences and preferences. After successfully achieving that, you can list concrete actions towards the common solution and the expected results. Because of its conciliation nature, this strategy is mostly applied for disagreements between clients or customers.
This strategy for conflict resolution requires tolerance and empathy from at least one of the parties involved. The point of this method is to settle things down quickly by giving the opposite party precisely what it needs to solve the issue. The objective of resolving the problem in the short term is to have both parties tune back in to then work on a long-term solution.
Though some people prefer competing and insist on winning their disputes at all costs, the smarter move is to maintain a respectful and cooperative attitude. Conflicts can escalate quickly, especially since you don’t know how others will respond to criticism and confrontation. Therefore, you should evaluate the best time to engage and how to do it.
The main goal of this method is to mitigate any unnecessary conflict and keep a friendly environment for sharing ideas and concerns.
This may seem contradictory, but not all disagreements are healthy. There are some cases where the reason behind the conflict is related to previous unresolved disputes or personal grievances of one or more parties involved. You should evaluate if you’ll get something productive or positive from the confrontation for those particular cases. If the answer is no, consider taking a step back and avoiding conflict before unnecessary friction increases.
Not all problems can be solved, but making an effort and approaching the situation properly can make coming to a conclusion and moving on easier. Developing your conflict resolution skills will set you up for tackling any issue in the workplace.
Contributed by Mary Dominguez and Luis Arellano.
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