Conflict occurs in all relationships. It is natural and it can be detrimental only when it is ignored or not dealt with appropriately.
When handled well at work, conflict can strengthen relationships, and lead to more energy, innovation and greater outcomes. However, when conflict is inappropriately handled in the workplace, it can lead to dysfunction in the form of increased stress, lower productivity and reduced revenue.
One in four employees are so upset by the idea of facing workplace conflict that they call in sick or are otherwise absent from work. That’s the finding from the CPP Global Human Capital Report. In addition, 10 percent of those surveyed stated that a project failed as a direct result of negative conflict, and another third said this negative conflict resulted in someone leaving the company.
Employees in American businesses say they spend on average 2.8 hours each week dealing with conflict, which collectively amounts to $359 billion lost annually to organizations!
Half of all employees surveyed see personality clashes and warring egos as the primary cause of this workplace conflict.
Conflict is unavoidable and therefore we need to learn how to appropriately deal with it if we want to be more effective and productive at work.
We are predisposed to dealing with conflict in one of five different ways, according to the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. These ways are: competing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising and collaborating. Each is appropriate for a given situation, but most of us are stuck—often unconsciously—using the same one or two in all situations. And this means very often ineffectively dealing with the conflict at hand.
Each conflict strategy has its time and place, and using the right one at the right time can make all the difference.
- Competing is assertive and uncooperative. In this mode you try to satisfy your own concerns at the other’s expense. Competing may be appropriate when you are standing up for your rights or defending your position.
- Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative. This is when you attempt to satisfy the other’s concerns at the expense of your own. Accommodating can be appropriate when you need to obey an order or choose to yield to another’s point of view.
- Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative. In this mode you are sidestepping the conflict without solving either your concern or the other’s. Avoiding can be used when it may be better not to engage in the conflict at that particular time and place. But it can be especially destructive if you don’t go back and address the issue once you do have the time.
- Compromising is intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. Here is where you search for middle ground that partially satisfies each person’s concerns. Compromising may be an appropriate strategy when there isn’t time to explore concerns more thoroughly.
- Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative. In this strategy you are seeking a solution that fully satisfies the concerns of each person. This requires the courage to stay engaged with the other person in order to really understand all concerns and perspectives, and to learn from each other’s insights to find an agreeable conclusion to the conflict.
“Each of these four strategies for dealing with conflict can have some success,” writes author Don Yaeger in his book Great Teams: 16 Things High-Performing Organizations Do Differently. “But Great Teams set a standard above the rest by choosing the fifth option—collaborating. This means they do their best to listen actively, consider all points of view, and stress the common purpose and shared values of the organization.”
Understanding which of the five strategies we are predisposed to using most often is key, and then learning the value of the other four and putting them into practice at the right times. In this way, we can better navigate the conflict that will occur with our colleagues.
The collaborating option has huge benefits and it pays to begin using this strategy more often when conflict occurs in your workplace. This assertive and cooperative strategy enables you to be fully engaged, without fighting, and remain in the arena when it may be easier to flee or capitulate. While it may slow things down initially, it will ultimately result in higher engagement and trust, and, more than likely, fewer conflicts moving forward.