Many students graduate from business school without learning about conflict resolution models. They learn about the sectors in which they plan to work and about professional etiquette in email correspondence and in face-to-face interactions. Even if you are very successful in your studies, the conflict situations you encounter at work might catch you off guard. If interpersonal conflicts are plaguing your team or organization, it is not too late to build your conflict management skills.
What Is Conflict Resolution?
Conflict in the workplace comes in many different forms. Employees working together on a team have disagreements and misunderstandings. Customers complain when your products or services do not meet their needs. Newly hired managers clash with long-time employees. Conflict management is the art and science of navigating interpersonal relationships in the workplace.
One aspect of conflict management is conflict resolution. The better you are at communicating expectations and listening to stakeholders, the fewer conflicts you will have to resolve. Some conflict is inevitable in every workplace, even those that benefit from excellent management. Therefore, it is essential for all managers to understand the various conflict management models and apply them appropriately.
Managers and Employees Need Multiple Conflict Resolution Models
You probably naturally gravitate toward a certain approach to conflict. Perhaps people describe you as stubborn, helpful, or non-confrontational; these characteristics can manifest themselves in your natural response to conflicts. As a manager, though, you cannot afford to be a one-trick pony when it comes to conflict management. You will be responsible for resolving many different types of conflicts in the course of your work. Therefore, you must become competent in several conflict resolution models, even if this means going outside of your comfort zone.
1. The Avoiding Model: Choosing Not to Engage
The avoiding model is when you simply do not address the conflict. People sometimes choose to ignore a conflict or to pretend to ignore it, in the hopes that the problem will solve itself. In other cases, each party knows that the other is aware of the conflict, but they choose not to discuss it during the present meeting because more urgent matters need attention. For example, if your company’s income tax returns are due next week, then today’s meeting should be all about taxes. Points of disagreement such as which candidate to hire for the open position can wait. Saying, “Let’s talk about the job candidates next week” is an act of conflict avoidance, and in this situation, it is a wise choice.
Even if you are naturally averse to conflict, you should use the conflict avoidance model sparingly. Waiting for problems to solve themselves is another way to say you are waiting for other people to solve the problem. If a manager routinely avoids conflicts instead of addressing them, this is a low-responsibility, low-control management style. A low-responsibility, low-control management style is a recipe for a disorganized workplace. Even worse, your employees will feel that they cannot count on you to help them resolve conflicts. Leadership requires you to deal with conflicts instead of ignoring them. When you are choosing to postpone resolving a conflict, tell your employees this directly. Reframe the conflict avoidance as a time management decision.
2. The Accommodating Model: Meeting the Other Person’s Demands
The accommodating model is when you solve a conflict by immediately saying “yes” to whatever the other person is asking you to do. It is easy to think of situations where being too accommodating would get you into trouble. For example, you should not accommodate a customer who asks you if he can buy one computer and get ten free. You should also not accommodate an employee who asks you to fire all the employees who are fans of a sports team that has a rivalry with her favorite team.
Before you agree to the demands that someone is making, think of any negative consequences that might result from your acquiescence to the demand. Think carefully about whether it is worthwhile to risk those consequences. Even when it seems like you are not taking a risk by accommodating a party to a conflict, you should explain why you are willing to make the accommodation. Setting boundaries is as important in your work as a manager as it is in your personal life.
3. The Competing Model: Fighting to Win
Some people tend to see all conflicts as a matter of winning or losing. Such people do not tend to be the most effective managers. Seeing everything as a competition is an element of a high-control management style, which can lead others to view you as bossy. It can also lead you to micromanage employees more than the task requires.
You should only adopt the competing model of conflict resolution when the situation has placed you in competition with someone else. For example, if yours is one of several companies that have submitted bids to a client, this is a genuine competition. Your focus should be on getting the client to choose you. From your perspective, a successful outcome to the conflict is the client awarding the project to your company instead of to your competitors.
4. The Compromising Model: Giving Up Something to Get Something
Anyone who has lived with roommates has engaged in the compromising model of conflict resolution. If one roommate likes to listen to music and the other likes a quiet apartment, they can reasonably agree that playing music in the apartment is sometimes acceptable. The musical roommate does not get to blast her music around the clock, and the quiet roommate cannot insist on constant silence. Instead, they should agree on times when the music can be on. The compromise ultimately means that one roommate gets less music than she originally wanted, and the other gets more music than she originally wanted. No one wins, but no one loses.
In a business context, compromising often takes the form of negotiating. For example, newly hired candidates often ask for a higher salary than what the employer initially offered. The employer does not usually agree to pay the new hire the full amount that he requested, but rather an amount higher than what the employer originally offered but lower than the new hire requested.
5. The Collaborating Model: Working Together to Find a Solution
In the collaborating model, both parties to the conflict set aside their expectations about outcomes for the conflict. Instead, they work together to find solutions other than what either party originally had in mind. The collaborating model differs from the compromising model in that it is not a series of demands, refusals, and concessions. Instead, the parties seek a solution to the conflict together.
On paper, the collaborating model sounds like it is always the best way to resolve conflict, but in many situations, one of the other conflict resolution models is more practical. Collaborating to resolve a conflict is a lot of work. The collaborative model is most appropriate for resolving conflicts that arise naturally out of collaborations. In other words, when coworkers run into problems while working together, they should work together to solve those problems. Your role as a manager is to collaborate with them.
Conflict Resolution and Reasonable Accommodations for Employees With Disabilities
Federal and state laws give employees with disabilities the right to receive reasonable accommodations from their employers to enable them to do their jobs. The accommodation should be one that makes it possible for the employee to perform his or her work tasks but that is not prohibitively expensive for the employer. Don’t let the word “accommodation” make you think that accommodating is the only applicable conflict resolution model in this situation. In practice, arranging for reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability usually involves compromising and collaborating.
How to Build Your Conflict Resolution Models Toolkit
Using all five conflict resolution models effortlessly is not a prerequisite to being hired as a manager. Most managers who are currently working struggle to apply one or more of the conflict resolution models consistently and effectively. The good news is that you can rely on the expertise of conflict resolution experts so that you can sharpen your conflict management skills.
If a major conflict has derailed the operations of your company or work team, the best solution is to engage in mediation. A professional mediator will guide you through the process of compromising and collaborating to solve the conflict. If the problem is a constant series of minor but time-consuming conflicts, then your best choice is to enroll in a conflict management training course.
Resolve Conflict Resolution Training Helps Managers Develop Their Conflict Resolution Skills
Taking a conflict management training course with Resolve Conflict Resolution Training can help you resolve conflicts at your workplace and prevent future conflicts. You can gain the skills to recognize conflicts in their early stages and resolve them before they become too complicated. We offer individual and group training sessions in person and online.