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Annette Quinn Successfully managing conflict in the workplace

When you have people, you have disagreement and you have conflict. This is something we all have to manage, either by managing our own behaviour, or dealing with the behaviour of people you manage who are in conflict with each other.

When you look at disagreement, it really is just a difference of opinion, and the question we need to ask is can disagreement be a good thing? The answer is yes, if it:

  • Creates new ideas and perspectives
  • Clarifies misunderstandings
  • Long standing problems get resolved
  • Increases the involvement of those involved

It’s not such a good thing if it:

  • Takes time, energy and attention away from more important priorities
  • Creates morale issues
  • Creates division
  • Causes people avoid certain people
  • Does not reach a decision, so the problem remains
  • Creates an assembly of allies
  • Results in lots of anger, with no apparent cause

So, in any organisation it is a good thing to have constructive disagreement, as it is how we all learn, grow and are challenged to do better. However, if you have the destructive kind, be careful, as it could escalate into conflict. 

Successfully Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Not all conflicts go through all of the five stages. Depending on the people and situations involved, the conflict may escalate quickly and skip one or more of the first stages. On the other hand, if you are aware of the stages of conflict as you experience them, you can take action to prevent the conflict escalating.

If you think of it, conflict is a war or a clash. It used to describe various wars throughout the ages, and it can never be positive, all we can do is manage it.

But why does it arise? Well, its causes are many and varied. From simple miscommunication, to personalities and egos, to competition for limited resources. In this age of downsizing, vacant roles not being filled, and less money around, it is only natural that conflict is going to occur. We are all fighting for the small pot available, and this is quite rational. However, when it comes to who we are and it pulls on our emotions, it’s not so rational!

So how can we manage it then? So often, William Ury, says, it comes down to us!   Have a look at him in action in this TED talk. He has a technique called, Going to the Balcony, which is all about managing your own emotions, then managing others, to get to a rational state of mind, from which options can be generated. The 4 steps are:

Step 1 – Manage your emotions

Going to the balcony is a metaphor used to describe the emotional disconnect one should have instead of reacting to the conflict that arises in your conflict situation. It isn’t always easy to emotionally disconnect, as it is in these situations that are fight/flight instinct sets in. We need to centre ourselves. Centering teaches us to focus on the here and now, taking power away from outside concerns and negative thoughts, and helping us remain stable and grounded. Once we are centred, we control our emotions and can get to the balcony. This download can help you with centering.

Step 2 – Managing others' emotions

To manage others emotions, it is important that we truly listen, with full attention to all relevant signals. This is called Empathetic Listening, and we listen to:

  • Tone of voice
  • Other verbal aspects – pace,volume, breathlessness, flow, style, and emphasis
  • Facial expression
  • Body language

This fun video on Empathetic Listening is worth a watch to gain a better understanding of its use.

All of this helps the other person see that you are trying to understand their needs. I also think it helps to build rapport with them. We like people who are like us, so some more techniques to try are:

  • Mirroring
  • Matching
  • Pacing

Step 3 – Shifting to rational

Wise behaviour is described as stepping to the other side and trying to look at the problem their way, to better understand their needs.

The Three Level Questioning technique can help us achieve this, to get to the heart of how someone thinks/feels about something. It should be used in conjunction with empathetic listening and will help you to get the other person to open up, without feeling defensive or threatened. Often, it is our beliefs and values or even fear that is at the core of conflict and most of us don’t know that. For more information on this, go to our download.

Step 4 - Don't push: Build them a golden bridge

Successfully Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Once you know why they feel the way they do, then you need to look at what to do next. The Thomas Kilmann model, provides five ways to deal with conflict, depending on your level of Assertiveness and Cooperativeness.

As you’ll see, managing conflict can be done, but it may require you to change your behaviour, in order to change the person you are in conflict with.

I think the easiest solution is to not let tension and misunderstandings escalate into crisis and conflict. Deal with it as early as possible.

For more information on how to get the best out of difficult situations, get in touch with us today.


Annette Quinn, Performance Management Facilitator

In my series of blogs I will be taking a look at performance management, in particular Time Management, and providing tips on how to develop your skills.

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Copyright © 2015 Bray Leino Learning

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