No matter how versed we are in workplace experiences, most people still have areas of improvement to find when it comes to conflict management. After all, as many as 85% of people experience conflict in the workplace, according to a CPP Inc. Global Human Capital Report.
Between ignoring conflicts entirely and escalating conflicts into shouting matches, there must be a way to productively and judiciously understand the source of conflict while we are untangling those knots and seeking a mutually favorable resolution.
Do you see room for improvement in conflict management in those around you as well as yourself? Here are some of the key ways to make sure you are participating constructively in the conflicts that arise in your life.
1. Step Back and Have Each Party Self-Reflect
Few conflicts are so incredibly urgent that, when tensions rise, they cannot take time to cool off. Sometimes, when two or more parties all feel that they aren't being heard, taking even 5-10 minutes to reflect on what each party wants, needs, and how best to reach a solution that affirms everyone can be very powerful. It also gives everyone time to think about what the other people are really saying in the conflict and how to charitably interpret and affirm them.
If nothing else, it allows anyone who has lost control of their temper or emotions to calm back down and make decisions from a more reasonable mindset. Not everyone will take full advantage of taking a moment to calm down, but many conflicts need this breathing room in order to resolve in a more healthy manner.
2. Evaluate the Power Structure and How Your Leadership Role Can Aid Conflict Resolution
Whether you are very early in your career or a senior-level leader, your role in a conflict situation may be different, and your Portland, Oregon area workplace's policies may inform that difference. A wise level of reflection in conflict management is to assess how you can be part of the solution if you aren't in a position of power, and how you can appropriately ensure that everyone is heard if you may be called upon to make the final choice.
Leaders, in particular, have a responsibility to step in when conflicts get out of hand, work to hear everyone's needs, and make a decision even when it is difficult. Recognizing that "letting people decide among themselves" isn't always the best and most valuable strategy with persistent conflict is one of the tough truths of moving up in a leadership power structure.
3. Use Active Listening and Affirming Body Language To Truly Hear Aggrieved Parties
Sometimes, the actual message of a conflict isn't the problem, but rather the attitude with which someone is treated. One of the best ways to ensure that the core needs for decision-making are addressed is to use the most affirming body language, social signaling, and language possible. Actively listening and making it clear that you understand before moving on to your own points can be key for this process.
Active listening and positive messaging don't come easily; just because you can accomplish these traits in normal circumstances doesn't mean that they'll happen automatically during an escalated conflict. Practicing with role play and real-life scenarios can help you build your self-control and positive response mechanisms so that you are more likely to be part of the solution when working with someone especially difficult.
4. Dovetail A Successful Resolution Into Improved Training and Policy in the Future
While a single conflict resolved is certainly cause to celebrate, there are often external forces making conflicts more likely. If stress levels are through the roof, or team members are given little guidance as to the authority on a particular matter, they are more likely to fall to conflict around these topics. Consider what factors in the most recent conflict were within the control of the participants, and which ones were external, making things more difficult.
Whether you're in charge or not, you can speak up about factors that promote or quell conflict. In some contexts, where conflict is simply going to be part of the job, that means getting more of your team trained in conflict management strategies, so they feel well-equipped. In others, the conflict causes are optional and can be reduced through new policies or clarity from leadership. Either way, even a frustrating and hard-to-solve conflict can give you key insights into how to make situations better in the future.
At Portland Community College, we offer The Art of Conflict Management, an interactive course that helps us understand the key reasons why conflict arises, become aware of the triggers and barriers that start conflicts in our own minds, and spend time developing our own conflict management strategies for the future. Our experienced instructional staff offer real-world scenarios that help you practice your own strategies for dealing with everything from difficult situations to difficult co-workers in ways that are healthy and ultimately constructive.
PCC Climb offers a variety of professional development skills that can make your career more successful in a variety of fields. Check them out today!