Dealing with Conflict

 “Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” – William James

How do you resolve conflicts between co-workers without quitting?

What is the first step in resolving conflict?

How do you resolve conflict with someone who doesn’t acknowledge that there is a problem?

These are some of the questions that came up at a communication training workshop The Reid Group conducted—and they probably would come up in any group of employees in any organization.

Since dealing with conflict—or rather, avoiding dealing with conflict—is such a huge obstacle to the development of productive teams, it is worth a further look at tools for conflict management.

When an issue arises between you and another team member, do you confront it directly or do you avoid it? Are you comfortable in dealing pro-actively with conflict or are you reactive/defensive? Do you find that your way of dealing with conflict is effective?

How we deal with conflict is critical to the quality of any relationship as well as to the productivity of a team. Few of us find it easy to confront conflict in a way that brings resolution, but it can be done. Here are some steps to take to enhance the effectiveness of communication and conflict management:

1. Clarify the situation, for yourself and check out the other party’s perspective.
What exactly is the point of tension or disagreement? Does the other person seem to be aware that there is a conflict, or is he/she just avoiding it? If the other person is unaware of the conflict, your communication starts in one place; if he/she knows there is a conflict but is avoiding it, communication starts in another place.

2. Frame the issue and your hoped-for outcomes.
Get clear in your mind what the nature of the conflict is and how it affects you. Identify behaviors and actions you feel contribute to the conflict, as well as the next steps you each of you could take to move forward positively.

3. Ask for an appointment to talk.
Communication about conflict is not best handled “on the fly,” in a chance meeting in the hallway or break room. Ask the other person for a specific time to talk, preferably face-to-face.

4. Practice your message.
Most people skip this step, but when we don’t practice the message, we are more likely to say things that put the other person on the defensive. Because most of us generally avoid conflict, we aren’t prepared for the other person’s reaction to the message. You might try role-playing with a friend to become more comfortable saying what you have to say and listening to the other person’s response.

5. Deliver the message and be prepared to listen for the response.
State your case respectfully and ask the other person for his/her view of the issue. If you find yourself feeling nervous, use your breath as an anchor to calm yourself and slow down your delivery. Emotions often run high in conflict situations, and deliberate delivery of the message along with an invitation to dialogue can help lower the emotional temperature.

It may seem easier—certainly less time-consuming—to ignore conflict but, conflict-avoidant teams hamper their creativity and productivity. Dealing with conflict in a direct, open, and respectful manner does more than “clear the air.” Ideally, it strengthens the relationship, reinforces superior problem-solving and potentially moves the relationship or team towards a more positive future.



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