A Guide to Conflict Management for Leaders

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Date:

July 27, 2022

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Milan Kordestani

Entrepreneur, writer, and founder of 3 purpose-driven companies oriented toward giving individuals control over their own discourse and creation. Milan works to produce socially positive externalities through a mindset of social architecture.

Hi! I'm Milan, an LA based founder and writer, architecting impact-first businesses.

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The best leaders neutralize workplace conflicts, making sure their team doesn’t lose sight of the company’s long-term goals.  Leaders often deal with conflicts with clients, employees, and other stakeholders. A strong ability to manage such conflicts can help a leader succeed. I used to fear that conflicts would grow in my team if I didn't address them immediately. Now, I've learned two things:

  • Focusing on preventing workplace conflicts can be a waste of time. Human beings are social creatures, and as such, we're bound to clash over differences.
  • Conflicts aren’t necessarily as bad as we fear them to be.  Conflicts can be growth opportunities, provided they are handled well.

After I learned how to manage conflict, my approach toward it completely changed.

What is Conflict Management?

Conflict management is the process of tackling disputes and the lack of consensus between individuals or groups.  The purpose of conflict management in a workplace is to learn to deal with disagreements effectively before they escalate into large disputes.  When conflict management styles bring team members together, they can find common ground and work towards a solution.Consider your conflict management style successful once you reach a mutually acceptable decision, whether through compromise, mediation, or collaboration. Remember that solving all fights and issues with the same conflict management style is impossible. You should be equipped with diverse conflict management tricks to judge and resolve each situation accordingly.To become an expert at conflict management, instill the following values in your team:

  • A growth mindset to encourage deriving a lesson out of every situation
  • A non-defensive attitude during arguments
  • Mindful listening to hear and process all perspectives
  • Emotional intelligence to empathize with everyone
  • Civil discourse to understand the disagreements

You must also find a balance between your assertive and collaborative reactions. Your initial response to disputes at the workplace should be determined by how assertive vs. collaborative you need to be in each case. This process will ensure smooth reactions in all situations.

5 Styles of Conflict Management

Leaders need to have some basic conflict management skills to tackle all kinds of conflicts.  Different styles of conflict management are employed depending on the gravity of the situation and nature of disputes. Some conflict-management strategies prioritize interpersonal relationships over any other factor involved. Let's familiarize ourselves with my top five go-to conflict management styles:

  1. Accommodating style
  2. Avoiding style
  3. Compromising style
  4. Competing style
  5. Collaborating style

These are the components of the  Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. It's one of the most effective teamwork-improving tools available that help you establish conflict grounds and guides to conflict resolution through negotiation techniques.

  • Accommodating Style

The Accommodating Style is best for conflicts that aren’t too big and when time is of the essence. If you don't think a dispute is worthy of your time, energy, and efforts, then you can resolve it by readjusting your side. It might seem like you're losing your ground by simply letting things be, but it’s quite effective for smaller conflicts. You accommodate the other person's perspective and compromise your personal interests. This reduces the risk of straining your relationship with a team member. For all the times when you don't want to be assertive and just need to resolve an issue immediately, go for the accommodating style. Pros: This conflict management approach allows you to solve problems immediately and project yourself as a decisive and empathetic leader.Cons:  You should not try this technique to solve bigger problems without first considering all sides of the issue.

  • Avoiding Style

The Avoiding Style of conflict management involves putting off dispute resolution until it's absolutely necessary. It can be smart to put off resolution for small conflicts until you've run out of other options.This style of conflict management works great when the involved parties need some distance from the subject. You let them cool off and then start a discussion to resolve issues. This will give them the time to gain perspective and headspace to have an open dialogue.Pros:  When the boss adopts an avoiding style, employees start to respect their manager more. Time and distance can work as great healers.Cons: If you avoid problems and their consequences, they won't go away. Some employees may also see you as weak or ineffective if you delay dealing with situations instead of facing them head-on.

  • Compromising Style

The Compromising Style is a win-win situation. Both parties aren’t adamant about their perspective, and they are capable of reaching a mutually-agreed decision. This is a simple conflict management style when both sides are willing to put in the effort and find a solution before proceeding with further work.The compromising style is commonly used when both sides have valid arguments. The project can be benefitted from both ideas if only they compromise a little on their ends.  This conflict management style involves putting relationships above all else, and disagreements take a back seat. However, this technique is not ideal for legal situations or industry compliance. If compromising can stir widespread discontent, there will be no point in using this method.Pros:  Compromise creates a strong foundation for relationships. The decisions are made quickly, and both sides have a part of their demands met in the process.Cons: Even though both parties make sacrifices, one party may feel exploited during the negotiating process. This can create resentment and anger in some employees.

  • Competing Style

When it's time to put your foot down and make a decision, the Competing Style offers a straightforward approach. It doesn't give too much weight to other people's opinions and values and makes self-interest a priority. This conflict management style is ideal in situations where you've already made up your mind and don't want to waste time debating.Competing Style is a conflict management tool that involves holding your stance against all odds and refusing to budge, even when others disagree. It is best used when you need to take a firm decision beyond popular consensus.Pros: When you make a firm decision, it reflects your competence and courage. You can use this move to create a good first impression, but only after considering all other factors.Cons: The biggest drawback of this method is you risk a bad reputation if your decision is wrong. You will also seem like a tyrant who doesn't listen to the people around him or her, but despite this drawback, your decision yields excellent results.

  • Collaborating Style

The Collaborating Style of conflict resolution relies on factoring in the concerns and requirements of all parties involved. It also involves clear communication and mindful listening so that managers can figure out a win-win situation and resolve workplace conflicts.This style demands more time and energy investment but the results are worth it. It requires hours of dialogue and meetings to reach a solution, but that conclusion is most effective. This should be the ideal conflict resolution tool for new managers who want to foster a collaborative environment.Pros: Everyone is happy and this lays the foundation for a strong and collaborative relationship. Cons: It is a long process and requires great commitment. It can be difficult to take time and energy out for collaborative conflict resolution from our busy schedules.

Test Your Knowledge of Conflict Management

What's your go-to conflict management style? Take a simple quiz to find out.In this quiz, the rate on a scale of 1 to 5 based on how strongly you resonate with the following actions. 1 is least likely and 5 indicates you're most likely to follow suit.

  1. I can analyze all aspects of a conflict and understand all points of view.
  2. I believe in myself and enjoy presenting my case until I win.
  3. I don't feel good during conflicts. I actively ignore them.
  4. I prefer discussions during a conflict to reach a solution.
  5. I always look for a middle ground in conflicts.
  6. I won't disrupt peace just to argue and get my way.
  7. I don't waste time in conflicts. I fix a problem and move on.
  8. I keep my disagreements to myself instead of sharing.
  9. I take great satisfaction in winning a conflict.
  10. I don't want to waste my energy in arguments when I can agree with everyone and relax.
  11. I don't like to stay near conflicts.
  12. I’m happy to negotiate with people so everyone wins.
  13. I want to stand true to everyone's expectations.
  14. I believe it's best to keep talking until we resolve a conflict.
  15. I know I'm right and I'll stand by it until everyone realizes the same.

Tally your scores with to see the conflict management style you tend to rely on:1, 4, and 14 are collaborative styles3, 8, and 11 are avoiding styles6, 10, and 13 are accommodating styles2, 9, and 15 are competing styles5, 7, and 12 are compromising styles

Civil Discourse as a Method to Manage Conflicts

Besides conflict management styles and techniques, I actively practice civil discourse in my personal and professional life. I define civil discourse as a productive dialogue exchange where people mindfully entertain diverse opinions and stay respectful. The real essence of civil discourse is in understanding everyone's perspective without any preconceived notions coloring our judgment. By mastering this clever art of agreeing to disagree, you stand by your perspectives while paying due respect to everyone else's opinions. This approach has helped me create a dynamic team, launch successful start-ups, and steer clear of grave internal conflicts. Here are some of my tried and tested civil discourse principles:

  • Listen actively

Civil discourse is not a veiled attempt to change people’s minds. Passive listening and nodding are not conducive to healthy communication, as they encourage more of the same from others; it’s all about expressing your opinion and listening to other perspectives. Practice patiently listening to someone else’s point of view and ask them to repeat if you miss anything. By mindfully listening to someone else, you make them feel heard and accepted.

  • Be receptive to diverse opinions

It is human nature to be biased. I understand that when I am communicating with others, my own biases play a role in how I react to their comments and ideas. In order to keep an open mind and listen more intently, I remind myself that my cognitive bias is always at play.

  • Convey value-adding opinions

Dialogue and debate are essential to civil discourse. However, it is important to understand that there is a difference between simply listening to others and having an open mind and going back to square one.

  • Be critical and accept criticism

Engaging in civil discourse doesn't mean you must accept others' opinions without criticism. You can be critical of others' ideas without using negative language. At the same time, prepare yourself to offer criticism even if you don't receive it.

  • Use assertive language with a regulated tone

I try to always be assertive in my language and moderate in my tone. All the participants listened attentively, responded to me, and considered my points. It can be tricky to make sure that you come across as confident and not utterly rude; so use polite gestures and body language to complement your confidence.

  • Present facts and figures

Practice civil discourse and back up your arguments with facts and statistics to become more persuasive. Focus on explaining yourself instead of getting drawn into arguments and personal attacks.

  • Demarcate your boundaries

While there are no hard and fast rules in civil discourse, you should define your boundaries at the start of any interaction. If certain topics are off-limits to you, disclose that early on. Remember that everyone has different limits and that everyone deserves respect.

Conclusion

A conflict is only negative when you don't know how to make the best out of it. Conflicts and disputes present an opportunity to learn and open up lines of communication. Use this chance to recognize your team members' motivations, understand their strengths, and develop a practice of civil discourse in your workplace.If some raging topics persist, follow the five effective conflict management styles:

  • Accommodating style
  • Avoiding style
  • Compromising style
  • Competing style
  • Collaborating style

These techniques will help you move past conflicts and create your ideal workspace brimming with productivity, but keep in mind that conflict management is only a temporary fix.  When all the team members value mutual respect, awareness, transparency in communication, and mindful listening, every business conflict can be resolved permanently. Start today and strive to build a thriving community with values of civil discourse.

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