Conflict Management

Conflict Management - Toolshero

In this article you will find a practical explanation of conflict management in a multi-stakeholder company. How to manage conflicts and maintain harmony? Conflict management is one of the most important skills for any leader or manager, but it is also one of the most difficult. If you are able to effectively manage conflicts, you can be sure that you will have a harmonious team.

What is Conflict Management?

Conflict management is defined as a process of making decisions and acting on them, in order to produce the best outcome possible under conditions of uncertainty.

It is a process that helps managers achieve an optimum outcome in a situation where multiple parties have opposing interests. During this process, there are six steps: diagnosing the problem, generating alternatives, choosing the best alternative, planning action, implementing the solution, and assessing results.

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This article is written for those who want to learn more about conflict management, as well as those who would like information on how to improve their conflict management skills.
In order to understand conflict management better, we need to understand what it means from different perspectives.

Definition of Conflict Management

Conflict management is the activity undertaken by managers to resolve conflicts in an optimal way. It is also the skills used to manage conflict and it is a skill, which requires time and practice.
Conflict management can be defined as a process where conflict leads to decisions that are beneficial for all involved parties, despite opposing interests. There are six steps in this process: diagnosing the problem; generating alternatives; choosing an alternative; planning action; implementing the solution and assessing results.

Many consider conflict management an important managerial tool because it enables managers to make quick decisions under conditions of uncertainty.

In short, conflict management is a process in which managers use a set of skills to manage conflicts.

Styles of Conflict Management

There are three primary styles: compromising, collaborating, and competing. These three primary styles can be broken down into more specific approaches.

1. Compromising

The ‘compromising’ style is commonly used by many managers when making decisions. This style involves trying to meet halfway between two extremes of a given situation. Compromise becomes important because it allows for both sides to find some common ground on which they agree on their goals or on the solution to resolve the problem.

This approach has been known to have its disadvantages too, though. While it does produce results, these results may not necessarily be optimal. It also requires quite a bit of time to make this approach effective.

2. Collaborating

The ‘collaborating’ style of conflict management is more commonly used by managers with high levels of maturity. This style consists of working together toward problem-solving instead of aggressively trying to meet individual goals. There are some advantages and disadvantages to the collaborating approach too. One advantage is that, because managers are focusing on working together rather than competing, it often makes for an efficient process.

On the other hand, there can be problems if both parties do not trust each other or have differences in their opinions about how things should be done. The collaborating approach does require less direct confrontation among conflicting parties, so it may cause opposing parties to become complacent or feel as if they are being taken advantage of.

3. Competing

The ‘competing’ style focuses on stressing the differences between parties involved in a conflict. This approach, typically used by managers with lower levels of maturity, involves winning or doing better than others. It requires constant attention to what is going on between conflicting parties, making it a somewhat inefficient technique.

While this approach can be useful for resolving conflicts quickly and definitively, there are some disadvantages too because it often leads to animosity among all sides. Because this approach demands so much energy from managers who use it, it often weakens their ability to help others in their organization accomplish objectives.

When a manager uses the competing style through leadership and decision-making skills, one disadvantage could be that they will have created an environment where people within the organization will be unwilling to share information with them. They may also feel like they cannot trust that manager to make good decisions for the group.

Strategies in Conflict Management

There are a few techniques and strategies managers can use when dealing with conflict, including:

Forcing

This is the option that will most likely cause conflicts to become worse. Managers who use this strategy typically attempt to resolve issues by imposing their own ideas or beliefs onto conflicting parties. As a result, this approach often leads to hindering both sides from achieving their goals and trying to achieve an agreement.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution takes place in two different ways: problem-solving and win-win. These styles involve working together and making compromises in order to come up with an answer for resolving the conflict issue at hand. It should be noted though that this approach does not always focus on individual goals, but it can result in both sides having to give up some control in order to reach a solution they are all satisfied with.

Conflict Avoidance

This is the option that most managers tend to go for when they feel conflict is not necessary or best dealt with in another manner. It typically involves postponing or ignoring issues, which in turn causes conflicts to remain unresolved. There are many problems that can arise when managers choose this strategy because it does not help resolve the problem at hand and it leaves both sides feeling discontent or unfulfilled.

Skills in Conflict Management

Managers must first be able to identify the conflict occurring within an organization before they can manage it properly. Once there is a mutual understanding of what is going on, managers need to figure out whether it’s a simple or complex issue and then decide whether or not to involve all parties involved.

Before entering into a discussion with conflicting parties, managers should consider the most effective method for resolving issues and try to understand where each side is coming from. It can also help if managers use some type of framework when engaging in discussions, such as using examples from their personal experiences or by summarizing points made during conversations.

The Managers who are trying to resolve conflicts should ensure that both sides feel safe expressing themselves because this will lead them to share information that is helpful to the discussion. Finally, managers should be able to encourage others involved to take responsibility for conflict resolution and brainstorm ideas that could lead to solutions.

Examples of Conflict Management

Some examples of conflict management are presented below to make it clearer and more practical:

  • What to do when your company’s employees don’t like their work environment.
  • A study on HR managers and how they solve conflicts at work.
  • A situation where you receive too many emails and need to prioritize.

A good example of conflict management is when a manager wants to know if his or her employees are happy with their work environment. Many causes of conflicts arise on the work floor and happy employees are more likely to perform better. Managing the environment is therefore a core activity of conflict management.

A study was conducted on HR managers who did not control the work environment. They found that HR managers wanted to create an atmosphere where people felt they could be themselves, ask questions freely, and know that there would be no repercussions for asking. An interview was also conducted in which the HR director said that he wanted his employees to feel at home.

Another example of how to deal with a conflict is when there are too many messages in your inbox, and you can’t decide which ones to prioritize. You may need to make three categories: prioritized, non-prioritized, and scheduled messages (which you’ll deal with later).

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Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Have you implemented conflict management in your company or in your workplace? Do you consider yourself a person with a compromising, competitive or collaborative style? Can you share your experience with us, explain your style and approach? How would you approach the conflicts of an organization? Do you have any comments or suggestions that you want to share with us?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Verma, V. K. (1998). Conflict management. The project management institute: Project management handbook, 353-364.
  2. Thomas, K. W. (1976). Conflict Management. MD Dunnette Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 889-935.

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