by Jennifer Tobkin
by Jennifer Tobkin
You went into entrepreneurship to make money, not to bring about world peace, so who needs conflict resolution strategies for workplace success? Doesn’t strategizing about conflict resolution belong at a Model UN conference instead of in the boardroom? Aren’t the personality clashes and fierce tempers part of what makes the business world so dynamic and interesting?
You might get the attention of the media, or even of investors, by losing your temper at every little thing, but that is not your ultimate goal in business. If you want your business project to remain profitable, you will need to reach agreements with other people. Since there is more than one side to every story, you can only do this through conflict resolution.
Why You Need Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies for Workplace Disagreements
Believe it or not, you need multiple conflict resolution strategies for workplace conflicts. You might have a go-to strategy that has gotten you to where you are, but it will not avail you in every situation. Your winning smile does not solve budget deficits, even if you are so handsome that you look like a walking headshot. Dad jokes may endear you to auto insurance claims adjusters, but they are cold comfort to an employee whose position you are terminating.
Effective conflict resolution means understanding the five basic conflict resolution techniques and knowing which to apply in which situation. The five basic techniques are accommodation, avoidance, collaborating, competing, and compromising. Some situations you encounter in your work may call for a combination of two or more of those techniques.
De-escalation Can Be an Effective Strategy
Trying to solve every conflict at the moment it arises is an exercise in frustration. The conflict avoidance technique is one of the most underrated conflict resolution strategies for workplace use. It is often impossible to find a solution to a complex problem in the course of a single meeting or Zoom call. Sometimes what you need the most is to buy time. Postponing a certain action or abstaining from weighing in on a given issue does not make you a wimp. It only means that you are not being hasty, and it could result in a better long-term solution to your conflict. Taking time to think through possible solutions to a problem is an effective conflict resolution strategy.
The Five C’s of Conflict Resolution
Five principles of conflict resolution are especially important for preventing the escalation of workplace conflicts. Since they all have to do with communication, one can even think of them as the five C’s of communication. The only way to resolve conflicts effectively is by communicating about them. The five C’s of conflict resolution are clarity, conciseness, curiosity, compassion, and collaboration.
Clarity Is the Necessary First Step Toward Conflict Resolution
You cannot solve a problem until you identify it. When working with colleagues to solve a problem in your workplace, you must identify the problem by name. Otherwise, you will be talking past each other and miscommunicating. You cannot accomplish anything until everyone involved in the decision-making process agrees on which problem they are trying to solve. Speaking directly about problems can be uncomfortable, but you can and should be tactful when referring directly to your coworkers’ mistakes. Refusal to talk about problems makes them impossible to solve.
Conciseness Helps Business Teams Resolve Conflicts Quickly
Just as saying too little can be an obstacle to conflict resolution, so can saying too much. Your team members are busy, and they only have so much time to devote to listening. Make sure that you only say the most important parts of what you are thinking. Writing multiple drafts is not just for when you make a speech in front of a big audience or write an article for publication. When you address your coworkers about a problem you need to solve, revise what you plan to say at least once before your coworkers hear it.
Conciseness is not just about brevity. It is also about focus. Write down all the points you want to make and elaborate on them one by one. You don’t need to write out your speech as if you were a keynote speaker at a conference. It is just as good to write an organized and detailed outline.
Curiosity Means Caring What Other People Think
When people say that curiosity killed the cat, they are talking about being nosy; they do not mean intellectual curiosity. In the context of context resolution, curiosity means caring about other people’s viewpoints and making an effort to find them out. Your sense of politeness will tell you when it is not appropriate to ask someone for a certain piece of information or opinion directly. In some cases, it is better to solicit coworkers’ views in one-on-one meetings or by email than in group meetings in front of the entire team.
Caring about other people’s viewpoints begins well before you are trying to solve a specific conflict in your workplace. Building a rapport with your coworkers is an aspect of effective management. It helps prevent conflict as well as makes it easier to resolve conflicts when they arise.
Compassion Is the Most Important Business Skill
Curiosity is about wanting to hear what others have to say. Compassion means listening to them without judgment. Treating others with compassion makes you successful in your personal life as well as in your professional life. Treat the employees on your team the way you would want your children’s bosses at work to treat them.
Collaboration Is the Key to Conflict Resolution, Even for Introverts
You might prefer to work alone, but no one wants to feel like a manager is making unilateral decisions without the team’s input. Managers are not autocrats, and they are not judges. Collaborating to resolve conflicts will be easier and more comfortable if you have already invested time in building a rapport with your team. If your work environment is one of compassion and curiosity, then collaboration will be a natural consequence.
Conflict Resolution in the Workplace Is an Ongoing Process
Ignoring conflicts before you find a solution to them is a mistake, but so is ignoring them after you think that all parties have agreed on a resolution. Conflict resolution is not a court ruling that your team members may reread every time new questions arise. If a couple had a series of blowout fights, breakups, and dramatic reconciliations, you would consider it a dysfunctional relationship.
Following through on one conflict will not get you far if you do not continually apply the lessons you learned from resolving it. Consistency in applying the five C’s of conflict resolution should be the sixth C.
Different Conflict Resolution Strategies for Different Industries
Some characteristics of the culture of an effective workplace are universal across industries. Treating coworkers with respect is a non-negotiable, even in workplaces characterized by competition among people who work closely together. Owning up to your mistakes is also important regardless of your line of work.
The five Cs are the same in every sector, but how they manifest themselves varies from one workplace to another. For example, curiosity can mean socializing with your coworkers after work in some organizations, but other organizations might discourage this practice and consider it unprofessional. Some workplaces encourage coworkers to get to know each other through retreats, others through Secret Santa gift exchanges, and still others through happy hour after work.
What About the Conflicts That Defy Resolution?
Sometimes certain people in your organization refuse to listen to other people’s views. In extreme cases, they might refuse to communicate at all. Realizing when you have reached an impasse in conflict resolution can stop you from wasting time trying to resolve conflicts with people who have already decided that no resolution is possible.
When you know that you cannot reach an agreement, consequences other than resolving your conflict are in order. You may need to dissolve your business partnership. How easy or difficult this is depends on the procedures your company has set up for removing a partner from the partnership. Your organization might also need to part ways with certain employees. You may need to hire lawyers for the conflicts that you cannot resolve through best practices in conflict resolution communication. Remember that it is possible to resolve most legal disputes among business partners without going to trial.
Where Can Business Leaders Learn More About Conflict Resolution?
Conflict resolution is not a matter of innate talent, but rather of learned skills. If you have never formally learned conflict resolution strategies, or if you want to learn more about them, conflict resolution trainings are available. PeaceComm offers individual and group trainings on workplace communication, conflict resolution, and other leadership skills. You can even get a conflict resolution certificate upon successful completion of certain courses. Business managers and other professionals can benefit from continuing education on conflict resolution strategies. Your organization has everything to gain if you invest in learning more about conflict management in a professional environment. Contact us to find out more about conflict resolution workshops.
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