What Is Conflict Management? (Definition, Types and Skills)
Updated February 3, 2023
Disagreements can arise in any organization. Having people in the workplace who know how to manage conflict is key to keeping turnover low, productivity high and customers satisfied.
In this article, we explain what conflict management is and why it’s important, tips on choosing one of five common conflict management strategies (with examples) and the skills you need to successfully manage conflict in the workplace.
What is conflict management?
Conflict management is the set of techniques required to identify and resolve conflict in the workplace. Since conflict is a normal part of any work environment, conflict management's goal is to detect and minimize the negative effects of conflict rather than eliminating it completely.
Conflict management is used to handle conflicts with fairness and efficiency. In doing so, you can avoid poor communication between colleagues, decrease workplace tension to improve productivity, and also keep the morale of employees high.
Types of conflict management
There are five types of conflict management styles, depending on the personality type you are dealing with, including:
This conflict management style is when you give in to accommodate the other person's needs. You can use the accommodating style when the issue being argued is not as important to you as it is to the other person. This can be an appropriate style to use if you wish to keep the peace in the workplace or if you know that you are in the wrong. You can also use this type of conflict management style when you use empathy and put yourself in the person's situation.
For example, a customer is demanding a refund even though they do not have a warranty. You know that you are in the right, but because you want to retain the customer and the product in question is not very expensive, you decide to give in.
This conflict management style involves simply avoiding the issue at hand. In this case, you would continually avoid the person or the issue. Use this style when you feel that you do not have time to discuss the issue or it seems trivial to you.
You can also benefit from using the avoiding style if you are not sure how to respond or you have not formed a proper opinion yet. An example of this type of conflict management is when your colleagues are arguing for a more comfortable dress code, but you are too busy working on end-of-year financial submissions to get involved.
This conflict management style gives you the opportunity to find a middle-ground solution for everyone involved. Use the compromising style when finding a solution is more important to everyone than having people win the argument. For example, you could distribute duties evenly so that you can finish a project before the deadline.
This conflict management style goes beyond finding the middle ground to finding a solution that will make everyone happy. Use the collaborating style when the relationship between those involved is more important than the conflict. One example is finding a solution between shareholders to keep the relationship strong.
This conflict management style involves sticking to your argument and rejecting that of others until you get your way. Use this style when a decision has to be made quickly, a long-term conflict needs to be resolved or you are standing up for your rights or the rights of others.
For example, a customer is harassing one of the employees. In this case, you would reject the person's argument and insensitive comments.
Related: Guide: 16 Personality Types
Questions to ask before choosing a conflict management style
Before you choose the type of conflict management style, consider asking yourself these questions:
1. How much do I value the issue being discussed and the person with whom there is a conflict?
Determining how much value you give to a person or an issue will help you choose the best conflict management style for the situation. For example, if the person is a client and the issue is trivial, then giving in may be best for the organization.
2. Do you know what the consequences are?
Whether you give in or stand your ground, consequences will follow. Accordingly, it is important to determine what these consequences are so you can make a more informed decision. If a consequence of standing your ground is damaging an important relationship with a stakeholder, then you might want to reconsider pursuing your argument.
3. Do you have the time and energy to pursue your argument?
Prioritizing, especially in a busy work environment, is key to being efficient and productive. If the argument is trivial and you have more important things to do, then giving in is the better solution. However, if it is a question of morals, you may want to give the issue your time and energy to solve it and create a healthier workspace.
Valuable skills for conflict management
Possessing the right skills is key to effective conflict management. The following are the most important skills you'll likely need to resolve conflict in the workplace:
Communication: The ability to speak in a polite manner but still be convincing in your argument
Discussion: The ability to be open to discussing matters instead of only sharing your opinion with those who agree with you
Positivity: The ability to avoid using the blame game and realize that everyone makes mistakes so as to avoid creating more conflict
Listening: The ability to actively listen to the other person without jumping to conclusions or making assumptions
Impartiality: The ability to separate the conflict from the person to get to a solution
Patience: The ability to be patient and not be provoked in unnecessary conflict
Facilitation: The ability to bring opposing groups together to find a solution
Mediation: The ability to mediate and facilitate the process of finding a solution
Assertiveness: The ability to stick to your opinion, stand up for your rights or those of others
Emotional intelligence: The ability to control your emotions to avoid them from getting the best of you during an argument
Empathy: The ability to put yourself in the other person's place to experience what the other person is feeling
Open communication: The ability to be honest during an argument for an easier resolution
Avoiding criticism: The ability to present your argument without criticizing the person opposing you
Responsibility: The ability to take responsibility for your actions when it is due
Stress management: The ability to manage your stress properly so as not to make the situation worse
Nonverbal communication: The ability to be respectful with your non-verbal communication by not rolling your eyes or mimicking your opposer
Humor: The ability to use humor appropriately to diffuse the situation and make it easier to find a solution
Problem solving: The ability to solve problems efficiently
Perception: The ability to be perceptive in a conflict to find a solution
Decision making: The ability to make decisions about whether to pursue the conflict or not.
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