Conflict Management 101

Conflict is a normal part of life and is manifest in almost every aspect of living. At its core it is a difference of opinion between two or more people. It only becomes a problem when one side in the conflict uses force or aggression to try and convince the other side to move closer to their side or opinion. Or when one side develops a defensive position to keep the other from encroaching on their side.

The good news is that most conflict can actually be managed or will dissipate on its own. The bad news, well you already know the bad news… when conflict escalates it sometimes, no almost always, ends badly. That’s why it’s good to have ways to manage and reduce conflict in the modern workplace. The essential piece to that end is as in most human interactions to improve communications.

On that front there is also good and bad news. The bad news is that you cannot hope to resolve conflict when one side or both refuse to communicate. On the other hand the good news is that you can often resolve conflict when there is an open dialogue between the parties. In my work in conflict management over the last thirty years there are a number of processes that can work in this regard. Here are some of the suggestions that might work for you.

 

Facilitated Discussion

This approach is to provide a trained facilitator and a guide to assist both parties and in practical terms this often means having a process to release and reduce tension around the issues in question. The facilitator and guides work to help the parties in dispute to see each other’s point of view, and hopefully reach a mutually satisfactory solution. Part of this process is also training the participants to solve their own problems in the future.

Mediation

In this approach there is an independent third party to mediate the dispute. A third party can help to provide an objective assessment of the dispute, and try to find a solution acceptable to both sides. Mediators are great but only if both parties are interested in a resolution.

Informal Problem Solving

In this approach to resolving workplace conflict both sides are asked to put the details of a conflict on paper, in the form of a narrative. This allows each side to have their say (in writing), and sometimes this is enough to defuse the situation so that real solutions become possible. If not then this process continues to try and find common ground amongst the parties and if that is not possible, it may identify some options to dealing with the dispute in the future. 

Conflict Assessment Process

Another process is called “the conflict assessment process”. It builds on the informal narrative problem solving approach but it adds another couple of elements. One is that the investigator makes a report back to the parties after reading the material and interviewing a number of witnesses from both sides. This report makes recommendations to the parties on how to resolve the situation and if they agree with the recommendations then the problem is resolved.

Mike Martin is the author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing With Difficult People

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