Understanding Conflict at Work


Author: Mags Treanor



Understanding Conflict at Work.

Dealing with raised emotions can be rooted in many different things. Whether you need to control anger or deal with a conflict, the one thing that will help to de-escalate a tense situation is understanding and managing your own emotions,recognising emotional reactions in others and having the wherewithal to manage these relationships. Such skillsets are all part of what Daniel Goleman outlines in his original framework on emotional intelligence.

Conflict management isthe ability to have insight into situatations when they start to go wrong and knowing how to act in order to de-escalate things before they blow out of proportion.  

To do this, you need to be able to influence others, and control and manage your own emotions in order to respond to the emotions and reactions of others. No easy task!

So why do we end up losing the plot instead of dealing with things in a manner that will be win-win for everyone involved?

The problem is that when we find ourselves in that all too familiar situation where we need to deal with personal confrontation or conflict, our natural reaction often stems from the caveman instinct of ‘fight or flight’, which leaves us overly aggressive or overly emotional, and at worst, both! As natural as these reactions are, in our modern and evolved world, they just don’t help us to get to the resolution we want. So what can we do to become more skilled in dealing with conflict?

There are more tools than anger and emotions that we can use when dealing with conflict, and ultimately it’s all about taking a step back and asking yourself what will really work in the given situation.

Each of these approaches, adapted from the Thomas/Killman model, can be the right one depending on the circumstances.  

Competing – Is all about pursuing your own interests with an unwillingness to negotiate the standpoint of the other person. Sometimes this is the right thing to do, especially when standing up for your own rights or values.   

Accommodating–  Is when you are willing to give up your own interests in favour of the arguments put forward by the other person. You may want to do this to create goodwill or to keep the harmony. It can also be a decision you make looking at the big picture and deciding that in this case, you do not need to win the battle.

Avoiding –  When you do not make an effort to meet your own needs or those of the other person. Bottom line, you are refusing to address the conflict. This can be important if the timing is wrong and emotions are heated, so that you decide to ignore it or postpone it to a more suitable time.   

Collaborating –  Also known as the win-win solution. You are very thoughtful of each person’s views and work on the issue to find a solution which results in mutual understanding and benefit.  

Compromising – This is about satisfying each person involved, however, neither ends up getting everything they wanted. It addresses an issue more directly than avoiding it, but falls short of collaborating. In the end, each person leaves with enough to be satisfied.

The Thomas/Killman model is a very good approach not only for dealing with conflict, but also managing conflict with others, especially in a work situation. It can be used when mediating and even in informal conflict resolution. If you want to push yourself even further and be the master of conflict management, here are three questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I able to accept and understand the other person’s viewpoint?
  2. Do I agree that I am part of the conflict?
  3. Am I willing to re-negotiate if the conflict wasn’t resolved first or even second time round?

Resolving confict in a constructive and confident way is all about being emotionally intelligent and aware. When your conflict resolution is positive, it also has the knock off effect that people see you as being a competent and authentic person to deal with, trust is built, and it benefits long term relationships with colleagues and team members.

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