The Right Approach to Conflict

by Glen Fahs on September 19, 2016

in Leadership


There are five primary approaches to dealing with conflict: 1) Authority, 2) Compromise, 3) Avoidance, 4) Accommodation, and 5) Collaboration. Many people are comfortable with a few of these approaches but not with all five.

If you misuse, overuse or under-use any of the five, you take a risk the conflict will become worse. Review the five situations below and decide which method of conflict resolution you would apply in each context, realizing there may be more than one good answer.

  • You are having an argument with your boss.
  • The other shift leaves a mess for your team to clean up.
  • A customer is harassing your receptionist.
  • You need to settle a dispute fast between two coworkers who report to you.
  • You see one coworker calling out his teammate for missing a deadline.

Argument with your boss: Disagreements are healthy and some supervisors value an employee who thinks and shares their views openly. Conflict can be a sign of trust and caring. However, you need to know when to stop and defer to your supervisor’s experience.

   Likely best choice: Accommodation

Other shift leaves you a mess: In surveys, inter-departmental conflict is usually one of the lowest rated areas for management. Problems persist, complaints recur and frustration mounts. Jumping to conclusions about how irresponsible or disrespectful others are may aggravate the situation. Instead, listen actively to how they want your relationship to work. Show appreciation for what they are doing right. Ask their help in first understanding and then addressing the problem. Thank them when progress is made.

   Likely best choice: Collaboration (win-win)

Customer Harassing Receptionist: While you want to treat outsiders with respect, you must not compromise principles or ignore the law. Managers need to be alert to harassment and to take immediate corrective action. If you are in the best position to stand up for the employee to the customer, be objective and clear about what is okay and not okay. Document the situation for your manager and Human Resources. Stay informed.

   Likely best choice: Authority

Settling a Minor Dispute Fast: When there is time, collaboration to find a win-win solution is ideal. But sometimes a job needs to be done promptly and exploring alternatives will take much too long. If a dispute isn’t important to the parties involved or your organization, the wisest course may be finding a middle ground where neither party has a clear win or loss.

   Likely best choice: Compromise

Coworker v. Coworker: As with most judgment calls, it depends on the context. However, if the coworker that is being criticized is receptive to his colleague’s feedback there is no need to intercede. Holding teammates accountable is the hallmark of a healthy team. As long they are respectful, such interactions may create trust.

   Likely best choice: Avoidance

Being a Leader doesn’t mean you do what is comfortable for you. A Leader needs to do what is best in the Big Picture. Learning when and how to use each of the five conflict management approaches is critical is earning credibility and making your team succeed.

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