How do you deal with conflicts at work?

By Somali K Chakrabarti

How would you feel if on a particular day when you plan to leave office somewhat early, your manager calls up and asks you to complete an urgent piece of work?  Alternatively, as a manager when you ask your subordinate to collate information that you need to plug in to an important report and follow up after sometime only to realize that your team member has not even started working on it.

Conflicts are a reality of life! Whether you like it or not, in your day to day life, you would  invariably come across several conflicting situations, both in office and at home. Your response to dealing with such conflicts often depends on your personality, your tendency to assert yourself, or to impose your viewpoint, or to adjust with others.

Conflict 1If you are in a habit to always assert yourself or one of those who want to prove their point at all times, you may end up expending a lot of time and effort in dealing with conflicts. On the other hand, if you worry too much about a conflict then you will be discontent, frustrated and feel demotivated. That will hamper your productivity at work.

The most pressing type of conflicts are those arising due to differences in personality. Then there are conflicts due to differences in style of work, due to interdependence on each other for work and differences in emotional and cultural background. Whatever is the nature of conflict, ignoring it in the hope that it will go away rarely helps.

An awareness of different styles for managing conflicts can help you to selectively pick your battles and fight for those that matter the most.

Five styles for conflict management are as identified by Thomas and Kilmann are

Competing, Compromising, Collaborating, Avoiding, and Accommodating. 

Managing Conflict

Competing  – “My way or the highway”

Competing is a power oriented approach of dealing with disagreements in which a person uses whatever power is appropriate (such as ability to argue, rank, seniority) to persuade others to accept one’s position.

It is an appropriate form of dealing with conflict when you need to make a quick decision, when the outcome is critical and cannot be compromised, safety or integrity is a concern or when important but unpopular actions such as cost-cutting, down-sizing, enforcing rules, or administering discipline have to be taken.

Competing style can be very successful when used effectively. However, it is important to know when and how to use competing as a conflict management style. If  used excessively or inappropriately, competing style can damage your relationships, leading to resentment and retaliation. It may even cause intimidation which inhibits communication and discussion of alternatives for solving the problems.

Collaborating  – “Win-win alternatives for resolving issues”

Collaborating is normally the best strategy for handling conflicts over important issues. Collaboration is characterized by high level of assertiveness and calls for effective cooperation and acknowledgement that everyone’s point of view is important. All involved parties need to have the clarity of goals and reach the resolution with equal power. However collaborative style is not appropriate for unimportant issues and overuse of collaborative style may result in delay in decisions.

Compromising  – “Let’s make a deal”

Compromising is a middle of the road approach in which all parties give certain concessions. When dealing with moderately important issues, compromising can often lead to quick solutions.  Though compromise does not completely satisfy either party, but it is useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming.

Accommodating  – “We will do it your way”

For conflicts or differences over issues that are fairly unimportant, use of an accommodating strategy is a quick way to resolve the conflict without straining relationship with the other party. Collaborating is also an option, but it might not be worth the time.

Avoiding  – “I will think about it tomorrow”

Avoiding is a passive style and should normally be reserved for situations where there is a clear advantage to waiting to resolve the conflict.  Too often, interpersonal conflicts persist and even worsen if there is no attempt to resolve them.  Avoiding is appropriate only when the issue is inconsequential and relationship with the other party is unimportant.  However, if either the issue or the relationship between the parties is important, then avoidance is a poor strategy.

No one style is ideally effective for all situations. Depending on the situation, personality types of conflicting parties, desired outcome and amount of time available, it is better to match the style that is best suited to the situation.

Learning how to deal with different types of conflict situations will not only improve your social skills but will also have a positive effect on your productivity at work.


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