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The 5 Approaches To Dealing With Conflict At Work

This article was based on episode 162 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase any full episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop.


Conflict is an inevitable part of working together as a team. Rather than hide disagreements, successful teams embrace diverse perspectives and know how to work through them. A manager’s ability to model effective conflict resolution can fundamentally shift how their team addresses such disagreements. Yet there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to conflict resolution; each person has their preferred style and every situation may call for a different approach. Here are the five basic options for conflict resolution and the pros and cons of each, so that you can choose the one that works best for your team whenever conflict occurs.


ACCOMMODATING: LET THE OTHER PERSON WIN


Do you find yourself needing to get your way regardless of how important the disagreement is? Or perhaps you’re like me and find that arguing or disagreeing is often not worth the energy. For example, when my designer makes graphics that are on brand and within our color scheme, I let her do her thing even if it's not my favorite graphic. Accommodating does not mean ignoring the conflict but instead deciding the conflict is not a priority and therefore letting the other person have their way without resentment on your part.

Pros to the Accommodating Approach: Accommodating builds trust within your team because it sends a message that you’re open to their ideas and willing to put your own preferences aside in favor of thiers. Plus, you save everyone time and strengthen relationships by avoiding insignificant conflicts, especially ones that feel nitpicky.

Cons to the Accommodating Approach: If you care more than you realize about things you are accommodating, you’ll start to build resentment. This can hurt work relationships and exacerbate future conflicts. Make sure that when you accommodate, you’re really willing to let it go. Also, never accommodate large, important issues that have a material impact. This is really avoidance, not accommodation.


AVOIDANCE: TOLERATE THE CONFLICT UNTIL IT'S GONE


While avoidance gets a bad rap, it can be a smart conflict resolution method under certain circumstances. For example, if a project is ending soon and you’ll no longer be working with a coworker, it may not be worth getting into a big debate, as long as the work, and your mental health, isn’t going to suffer because of avoidance. Additionally, avoidance may mean stepping away so you can calm down before engaging in a different conflict strategy. There are even times when avoidance is about delaying the discussion or finding an alternative that negates the conflict altogether. This could look like a team member moving onto a different project, a shift in strategy, or new information that comes in.


Pros to the Avoidance Approach: Avoidance can give people the time and space they need to get into a better headspace before addressing the conflict head on. Sometimes conflicts between people will naturally resolve themselves down the road, as information becomes clearer or relationships develop.


Cons to the Avoidance Approach: In the wrong situation, avoiding the conflict can make the problem worse. And if you regularly avoid conflict, your team may assume you’re incapable of dealing with conflict, which will undermine your position as their leader or create a culture in which conflict festers under the surface.


COMPROMISE: EACH PERSON GETS PART OF WHAT THEY WANT


While we were encouraged as kids to compromise, it’s usually a lose-lose approach that tends to leave both parties somewhat unhappy. Either both people have to give up something in order to meet in the middle, or the ideas get watered down and therefore become less impactful. This commonly happens when teams are torn over how to spend a limited budget. By spreading it across a few different options so that everyone gets something, the dollars are diluted leaving each of the individual efforts underfunded and therefore lacking in impact. Compromise in these types of situations just doesn’t work.


Pros of Compromise Approach: Compromise is useful when you’re short on time and need to come up with a solution quickly. In these cases, speed of resolution is more important than how the individuals feel or the impact of the decision.


Cons of Compromise Approach: Compromise usually leaves all parties unsatisfied and desiring better solutions. A work environment that uses compromises too often may create a culture in which conflict is associated with disappointment.


COMPETING: I WIN NO MATTER WHAT

In a competing approach, any compromises or alternatives are rejected. Whether it’s driven by conviction on the topic, dislike for the other person, or authority, the position you take is unwavering. A common example is when a manager steps in when her colleagues are stuck to just make the decision for them. By asserting your power, you’ve entered the conflict in a competing modality.


Pros to the Competing Approach: If there’s a tough decision that just needs to be made, taking a competing approach may be warranted. This often happens when there’s not enough time to find an alternative solution, or if there’s no right answer.


Cons to the Competing Approach:

When used in other situations, this approach will likely make your team feel bulldozed, unheard, and frustrated, so it should be used with caution. If someone is using this approach because of a need to be right, this will understandably cause a lot of ill will among your team, tainting otherwise healthy relationships.


COLLABORATION: WE BOTH WIN


Collaboration is taking the time to discover a win-win approach to conflict resolution that leaves everyone feeling good. In this approach, everyone involved takes the time to understand and explore each person’s position in order to come to the best solution that meets everyone’s needs.


Pros of the Collaboration Approach: Relationships among the people involved often grow stronger and the solution is more effective when everyone feels they’ve been heard and their needs addressed.


Cons of the Collaboration Approach: This approach is time-consuming and requires buy-in from all parties. It also often requires a skilled facilitator who can help unearth assumptions as well as navigate emotions. While it may seem like managers should strive to always use a collaborative approach, it’s not always warranted. Be careful not to use this approach when another, less time-consuming one would suffice or you will exhaust your team and turn small conflicts into big ones.

Understanding these five different conflict resolution approaches can be enormously helpful for your team. Have a discussion with your staff about their individual go-to styles, and brainstorm the best approaches to conflicts that often happen in the office. Which style makes the most sense in each situation? If everyone is more aligned on what to do when conflict arises, your team will be more effective and efficient when dealing with it.


Get the full episode guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase an individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.


This article was based on episode 162 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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