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Conflict resolution is a process in which two or more parties work towards a solution to a problem or a dispute. When it reaches a point where it needs to be addressed because it is negatively affecting one or more parties, the participants are then required to work together to come to an agreement that resolves the issue.

Conflict basics:

  • Conflicts are typically more than just disagreements. It’s usually a situation where one or more parties perceive a threat of some kind.
  • Conflicts tend to fester if they’re ignored.
  • Conflicts result from our perceptions of the situation and not necessarily the facts. We are influenced by our culture, values, and experiences.
  • Conflicts trigger strong emotions.  You need to be able to manage your own emotions in times of stress.
  • Conflicts can be an opportunity for growth. You learn to build trust through resolution.

Approaches to Conflict Resolution:

The Thomas-Kilmann Model spells out five different approaches to resolving conflict. Each of these has pros and cons and is best used in particular situations.  The five styles are:

  • Avoiding: Typically used when the issue calls for a “cooling off” period and where the issue is likely to resolve itself over time. Managers use this approach when employees can be trusted to work together and solve the problem.  However, this can also backfire and make things worse if the conflict continues and nothing is done.
  • Accommodating: This style works well when you don’t feel as strongly about the issue as the other person and prolonging the conflict really isn’t worth it to you. This action is all about keeping the peace and choosing your battles. It works best when the disagreement is handled swiftly, but won’t work well with larger, more serious issues.
  • Compromising: This is an attempt to find common ground where both parties concede something so a solution can be found. This helps both parties understand the other’s perspective but potentially, no one is completely happy in the end and might be unwilling to compromise in the future.
  • Competing: This occurs when one person feels very strongly and is unwilling to back down. It often occurs when there is a strong moral issue. This can be productive in the case of unpopular decisions: it resolves things quickly but can be seen as unreasonable and authoritarian.
  • Collaboration: Often the style with the best long-term results, it can be difficult and time-consuming. This is a win-win for everyone and all are satisfied with the outcome. This approach involves all parties sitting down to hammer out a solution together…. and results in preserving the relationship when the solution has a significant impact.

Fundamental Skills:

  •  Active Listening: Number one on the list is to listen without interrupting and focusing on what your customer or team member has to say. Ask questions and clarify until you understand the issue clearly.
  • Empathy: Take the time to consider how the other party might be feeling. Put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine what it takes to resolve the issue from their point of view.
  • Fairness: Always try to separate the facts of the conflict from the person. Center your energy on the problem itself without involving personalities and or past history.
  • Positivity: Having the right attitude goes a long way. It keeps progress moving forward and makes it easier to overcome obstacles along the way.
  • Open Communication: Make sure both parties are communicating openly. Once you’ve come to an agreement, check-in and make sure both ends of the agreement are being upheld. Openly communicating can prevent conflicts from escalating.
  • “I” Statements: Beginning your statement with “you” sounds like blaming. Resolution is not about what the other person is doing wrong, but what agreement can be reached to find a solution.
  • Choosing Resolution over “Being Right.” Especially when working with a customer or guest, consider stepping back to assess whether it might be best to simply improve the situation without concern for who’s right or what the standard policy might be. Conflict resolution is occasionally about making a sacrifice for the greater good.

Most people could benefit from improving their approach to conflict. Remaining calm and managing your own emotions is key to setting the right tone and being respectful to the other party.  Remember to listen to understand and not assume you know where the other person is going with their idea and interrupting.

Ask yourself how much do you value this person or issue? Do you understand the consequences of participating in this conflict and do you have the time and energy to contribute to a solution? The answers to these questions may help you decide how to approach a conflict or whether to let it go.


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