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John Daly: Conflict Resolution — How to Solve Disputes, Part 1

[Noozhawk’s note: First of two articles on solving conflict resolution.]

Conflict happens. Different people with different goals and needs get into disputes that often result in intense personal animosity. On the other hand, disputes can often lead to personal and professional growth if they are resolved effectively.

Often, disputes are created by underlying problems, so look at them as an opportunity to solve the more deep-seated issues that create conflict. In addition, according to MindTools, if conflict is resolved effectively it can create:

» Increased understanding: The discussion to resolve conflict expands people's awareness of the situation, giving them an insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of other people.

» Increased group cohesion: When conflict is resolved effectively, team members can develop stronger mutual respect and a renewed faith in their ability to work together.

» Improved self-knowledge: Conflict pushes individuals to examine their goals in close detail, helping them understand the things that are most important to them, sharpening their focus and enhancing their effectiveness.

If conflict is not handled effectively, the outcome can be very damaging, dissolving into personal dislike, a breakdown in teamwork and wasted talent when people disengage from their work. This becomes a vicious downward spiral of negativity.

To prevent this from happening, you need to understand two theories behind effective conflict resolution.

The Theory of Conflict Styles

In the 1970s, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to help identify which style of conflict resolution you tend toward.

» Competitive Style: People who tend toward this style take a firm stand and know what they want. They usually operate from a position of power (position, rank, expertise or persuasive ability). This style is useful when there is an emergency and a quick decision needs to be made; when the decision is unpopular; or when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation selfishly. However, it can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and resentful when used in less urgent situations.

» Collaborative Style: People with this style try to meet the needs of all people involved. These people can be highly assertive but, unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone is important. This style is useful when you need to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too important for a simple trade-off.

» Compromising Style: People who prefer this style try to find a solution that will at least partially satisfy everyone. Everyone is expected to give up something, and the compromiser also expects to relinquish something. Compromise 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 Style: This style indicates a willingness to meet the needs of others at the expense of the person's own needs. The accommodator often knows when to give in to others, but can be persuaded to surrender a position even when it is not warranted. This person is not assertive but is highly cooperative. Accommodation is appropriate when the issues matter more to the other party, when peace is more valuable than winning, or when you want to be in a position to collect on this “favor” you gave. People may not return favors, however, and overall this approach is unlikely to give the best outcomes.

» Avoiding Style: People tending toward this style seek to evade the conflict entirely. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be appropriate when victory is impossible, when the controversy is trivial or when someone else is in a better position to solve the problem. In many situations, however, this is a weak and ineffective approach to take.

Once you understand the different styles, you can use them to think about the most appropriate approach (or combination of approaches) for the situation. You can also think about your own instinctive approach, and learn how you need to change this if necessary. Ideally you can adopt an approach that meets the situation, resolves the problem, respects people’s legitimate interests and mends damaged working relationships.

The Theory of the “Interest-Based Relational Approach”

The second theory respects individual differences while helping people avoid becoming too entrenched in a fixed position.

In resolving conflict using this approach, you follow these rules:

» Make sure that good relationships are the first priority: Be calm and try to build mutual respect. Be courteous to one another and remain constructive under pressure.

» Keep people and problems separate: Recognize that often the other person is not just “being difficult” — but that real and valid differences can lie behind conflictive positions. By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging working relationships.

» Pay attention to the interests that are being presented: By listening carefully, you’ll most likely understand why the person is adopting his or her position.

» Listen first; talk second: It’s imperative to understand where the other person is coming from before defending your own position.

» Set out the “Facts”: Agree and establish the objective, observable elements that will have an impact on the decision.

» Explore options together: Be open to the idea that a third position may exist, and that you can get to this idea jointly.

By following these rules, you can often keep contentious discussions positive and constructive. This helps to prevent the antagonism and dislike that so often causes conflict to spin out of control.

Next week, I’ll discuss using these tools to resolve conflict.

John Daly is the founder and president of The Key Class, the go-to guide for job search success. Click here to learn more about The Key Class or to get his book. If you have questions about business or social etiquette, just ask John at [email protected]. Connect with The Key Class on Facebook. Follow John Daly on Twitter: @johndalyjrClick here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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