The Internet abounds in articles listing anywhere from 3 to 10 strategies of conflict resolution, but that’s where you should step back and think critically. Strategy is a big plan of actions (where each step is a tactical move). So, active listening or adopting unbiased attitude (for example) is not a strategy. They are steps within larger strategies.
So how to tell where the truth lies? You can learn about the actual strategies and their implementation at any decent conflict management workshop, whether it is a full offline session or a good virtual conflict resolution training. Online training is not necessarily worse than an offline one. You get a one-on-one session with a coach over Zoom or other communication channel and get a chance to practice the theory and ask questions. Besides, you skip the need to travel and book a hotel, which is a critical consideration sometimes.
No matter what, a really professional training will teach you 5 strategies, because there are 5 of them, according to the model of Thomas and Kilmann. But in addition to that, there are steps to take in advance no matter what strategy will be at work. So all in all, you should get the profound knowledge of the following.
Avoidance (leaving the conflict unaddressed)
The head in the sand take on a conflict may not seem the reasonable thing to do, yet some people (and managers) prefer to pretend that nothing happens and to hope that the problem will disappear. Sometimes it works, yet more often it just makes the problem worse.
Compromising (partial solution)
Compromise is about finding the least worst solution that does not leave everyone totally fretted. In a compromise, everybody sacrifices something but gets something in exchange.
Collaboration (complete resolution)
This is the ideal outcome where the actual root of the problem is found and eliminated for good. Instead of making people share insufficient resources in the most reasonable way, you increase the allocated resource, so that everyone can operate successfully without sacrificing something.
Competition (pushing forward one’s own agenda)
It depends on a personality, and if there is a bulldozer of a person who always has the final say in your team, you may be sure that the victory will be theirs. It often leaves other employees perplexed and questioning the workplace policies and rules.
Accommodation (bland acceptance of offered solution)
The opposite pole of competing is accommodating the conditions set forth by others. If you cannot avoid the conflict, give in and keep quiet. That’s the motto of some employees. Although it may seem that this strategy is not that bad, remember that after several conflicts ‘resolved’ in such a way, a less aggressive employee may leave in search for safer environment. You will end up with a bunch of aggressive people who will fight each other instead of bringing value to the company.
As a manager, it is you who has to catch signs of a brewing conflict and settle it in the best way for everyone. Sometimes you may ask someone to give in, if the point is really minor, but remember, that next time this person should be ‘a winner’, even if with your strong assistance.
It is alluring to think that people should be able to defend themselves, but usually people just walk away from a rogue without engaging in a conflict altogether or call the police, and they cannot walk away when they are on the same team. So, creating healthy environment is your task, if you want your business to flourish or your managerial influence to be immense and real.
Now, when you have opted for a certain strategy, you have to provide a safe space and rules for conflict settling.
Ideally, when you get people on board, you learn about their psychological profile in advance through testing (in regard to their professional qualities, naturally). So when the actual conflict sparks, you can predict who will be doing what and how to counter it. You know that this employee will fight till the end, and this one will give up early. So your task is to find a path between them.
Yet if you haven’t conducted such a study in advance, you will have to play by the ear.
Get the team together in assigned place and time and set the rules of communication:
– assign time for everyone to speak without interruptions;
– require the language to be problem-oriented, not person –oriented;
– ask everyone to speak about their part (‘I need this and this but I cannot get it’) and not to place the blames (‘John always lets me down on logistics matters’).
It is also recommended not to involve into discussion any previous conflicts, but if the problem is recurring, then something is really wrong with your work routines or a given employee.
Cuing the team
While people discuss the problem and how to fix it (hopefully), be the referee who stops any bickering. But also listen carefully to what they say because it may be your fault, after all. You may have set unclear or inconsistent tasks or allocated meager resources. Then it will be your responsibility to fix everything. So keep ears open and manage the talk while people search for solution.
Also mind that if the debate becomes too heated, a break may be necessary. Sometimes it is better to stop, cool off or continue the next day than to bring the conflict to the point of fist fighting during the first session. Look back at what happened and why, think it through, and maybe the next day you will offer the judgement of Solomon that you did not see in the heat of the fight.