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How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace

Posted by Jereme Sanborn on Jul 13, 2015 9:00:00 AM
   

small business conflict tipsNo matter how well-oiled a machine you think your workplace or business is, inevitably there will be some conflict that comes out of nowhere and rears its ugly head! But does it really come out of nowhere? Or did you miss some of the warning signs of an impending issue? Maybe it's the way you’re wired to manage conflict?

Research has shown that we are all born with an innate way to manage conflict when put into a leadership role. The Thomas-Kilmann’s Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) explains that everyone’s conflict style comes down to five distinct types.

  1. Competing. This person is assertive and uncooperative and will win at all costs, even at others expense when he/she is wrong.
  2. Accommodating. The complete opposite of the Competing type. This person will sacrifice his/her own concerns for those of others.
  3. Avoiding. Doesn’t want to deal with conflict. Will sidestep, postpone and withdrawal to avoid issues.
  4. Collaborating. Opposite of the Avoider. He/she will work to find a resolution that makes everyone happy.
  5. Compromising. Will seek the middle ground in a conflict. A blend of both assertive and cooperative, this person won’t get to the root of the issue, but will help negotiate a resolution.

Even though we all fall into one category or another, great leaders can adapt their style and choose a type that best fits the situation. The flexibility shows that you’re in-tune with your employees and know how to adapt for what’s best for business.

Here are a few suggestions on how to handle conflict, keeping the five conflict styles in mind:

Plan. Prepare. Process.

Being prepared is one of the best qualities any leader can have, so make sure to have a plan in place before an issue arises. Forbes.com recommends you have a step-by-step plan to face disagreements head on before they even happen. That way you have a set process in place to resolve conflicts.

Time is of the essence.

Intervening as soon as you hear of an issue will help that small issue stay small. Giving conflict time will only build it into a larger issue that will be harder to control. You want to get in front of it as soon as possible. This is when people who have a tendency to avoid conflict need to stand up and take charge, so they don’t lose the confidence of their employees.

Kill the root.

When you have conflicting parties involved in the issue at hand, you need to get them behind closed doors and see what is the true cause of the problem. Once you find the root of the issue, you should mediate a resolution without letting the discussion get too personal.

Team.

As the saying goes, there is no “I” in team. It’s your job to remind those in the conflict that they are all working toward a common goal and work with them to resolve the issue. 

Be available.

Employees will be more apt to come to you when the conflict is in the beginning stages if you offer them an open door or email policy. They’ll know that you understand their concerns and will help them resolve whatever is bothering them. If the open door policy is seen as lip service, then those same employees may let their issues fester and become issues themselves. 

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