Handling Conflict

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


At some point in every manager’s daily life, you will be faced with the need to resolve conflict, either:

  • Conflict between two of your colleagues
  • Conflict between a colleague and someone else (a supplier, customer or distant colleague)
  • Conflict between a colleague and yourself

Two of the most valuable conflict management models have already been covered in the Management Pocketblog.

Exercise 1: Review Ellen Raider’s AEIOU Model

As a major figure in researching conflict, Morton Deutsch should be your first port of call. Read through the Pocketblog: Conflict: as simple as AEIOU. What are the direct lessons for you, from this blog?

Exercise 2: Review the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes

The most widely used model for understanding your choices when you approach conflict is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes model, which you can read about in the Pocketblog: Is this Relationship going to Work? Look at the five modes and ask yourself which ones you tend to over-use and which you tend to under-use.

Exercise 3: Review the basics of Mediation

If you ever need to mediate between conflicts, then the Pocketblog: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right will help you grasp the basics of the role, setting out six basic steps. Which steps do you do well, naturally, and which do you tend to skimp on?

All of this reading back should allow you to start to form your own ideas about what makes for productive handling of conflict. For me, there are six elements. I will offer three tips under each.

Element 1: Attitudes

  1. Respectful of differences: conflict arises out of differences – as soon as you respect those differences, conflict softens.
  2. Open Mind: try to see the other person’s point of view and what matters most to them: Respect that.
  3. People are not the problem – while behaviours may be unwelcome, distinguish the person from their attitudes, needs and behaviours.

Element 2: Discovery

  1. What do you know already: inventory.
  2. What do you not know: shopping list.
  3. What are the causes: a step towards solutions.

Element 3: Core Skills

  1. Listening: until you really hear, you cannot respect or discover the truth.
  2. Language: clear, straightforward and respectful use of pronouns (‘I’ takes responsibility: ‘you’ sounds accusatory).
  3. Calm: find ways to calm yourself so you can control your responses and remain objective.

Element 4: Strategies

  1. Spot the signs of rising tension early: move in to defuse the conflict before it gets properly started.
  2. Keep working: if you break contact, conflict will escalate in the gaps.
  3. Welcome contributions: make all contributions welcome by inviting, acknowledging and valuing every effort the other person makes.

Element 5: Support

  1. Ask for it: whenever you need it.
  2. Offer it: whenever you can.
  3. Match it: to the needs of the situation – is facilitation or mediation or arbitration the right approach?

Element 6: Cautions

  1. Avoid the mindset of trying to ‘win’. Look instead for a resolution that both parties will value.
  2. Right and wrong: are rarely appropriate categories – if they were, the conflict would be far easier to resolve.
  3. Blame, punishment and retribution: have no role. In the film Papillon, Leon Darga says ‘blame is for god and small children.’

Further Reading 

  1. The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook
  2. Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook
  3. The Mediation Pocketbook
  4. The free ACAS Advisory booklet – Managing conflict at work
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