Conflict is a hazard and a responsibility of leadership, and when it occurs, you must approach the situation calmly and professionally.

If not, the conflict can spiral out of control and have a devastating impact on productivity and morale, and it can lead to staff turnover. The question is, what’s the best way to tackle conflict when it emerges?

Below we explore the three best approaches to conflict resolution, and the circumstances in which they’re appropriate. We then look at some alternative strategies which not everyone will recommend, but they can still be useful in some situations. We will also suggest some courses to help you improve your own conflict management skills.

The three best conflict resolution strategies

Individuals have a natural style of conflict resolution, and some approaches work better than others. The Thomas Kilmann model identifies five main natural styles of confliction resolution, which are: 

  • Avoidance
  • Accommodation
  • Collaboration
  • Competition
  • Compromise

We consider compromise, collaboration, and accommodation to be the best three strategies out of the five, which is why we’ll start with these, explaining what they are and the types of situations in which they’re appropriate. We’ll then look at avoidance and competition, which we consider less effective strategies.

Compromise

The compromise approach is about finding a suitable solution that partially satisfies the disputants in the conflict. Both parties are partially assertive and partially cooperative, working towards an outcome that each perceives as fair, even though neither of them might like the decision. 

On the website of for-profit university Walden University, Dr Barbara Benoliel, a professional mediator, mitigation expert, and faculty member at the university, explains compromise is the best style when you’re losing time and the outcome isn’t crucial. This could be when you want to make a decision and move on with things and are willing to make a concession so that the decision can be made. 

The training you can receive on our Negotiate Confidently course is beneficial in this type of situation. Negotiation is a means of discussing differences, finding a resolution, and agreeing on an outcome, all while avoiding argument and dispute. On the course, you’ll learn about the conditions necessary for negotiation to take place and how to trade tactically to ensure a win-win situation. Negotiation isn’t a zero-sum game; it’s about securing the best outcome.

Collaboration

The collaboration style is all about working together to achieve a solution that satisfies everyone. Each party will be more assertive and cooperative than in the compromise style. Both sides of the dispute can get what they want and, at the same time, minimise any negative feelings.

According to Dr Benoliel, a collaborative strategy serves you best when the outcome and the long-term relationship are important. An example situation of this could be a merger between departments. Each department will want the best outcome for the new unit to operate smoothly.

As well as our Negotiate Confidently course, our Emotional Intelligence for Leaders course is a helpful course for a more collaborative approach to conflict resolution. It’s an excellent course for learning to build stronger relationships, a necessary part of conflict resolution; to use language to change situations positively; manage disruptive emotions, and relate to colleagues. 

You may also wish to consider our Leading Through Change Programme. When a business or organisation is going through periods of change, conflict can materialise as management or employees experience the disruption and stress, frustration or other emotions begin to creep in. The course looks at motivating teams, building their resilience and coaching them through the transition, and more as you endeavour to implement change in your organisation successfully. 

Accommodation

You may have heard of the phrase ‘leaders eat last’, which is also the title of a book by inspirational speaker Simon Sinek. The idea is that leaders should be willing to give up something of their own for us, whether it’s their time, their money or their energy when it matters. In this conflict resolution strategy, there’s a sense of this as one party sacrifices something to accommodate the other person.

This strategy is appropriate when you want to build a relationship or preserve it, but the outcome of the situation doesn’t matter too much to you. This may be over something as trivial as choosing where to eat lunch with a colleague, with you preferring to eat in one type of restaurant but your colleague wishing to eat in another. 

Be aware that although this style seems generous, it can trigger resentment. People may also take advantage of a leader they perceive as weak and refuse to cooperate, knowing the leader will make the concession. Although this style can help to resolve the conflict, we don’t recommend it using habitually because the resentment could build up to a point at which it generates conflict.

Here we’d suggest our Emotional Intelligence for Leaders and our Negotiate Confidently courses, which we’ve discussed above. If you find yourself accommodating others more and more when approaching conflict, this course will help you learn to cope with the potential resentment your conflict resolution style may be generating, by teaching you how to manage disruptive emotions. 

Meanwhile, if you’re experiencing situations constantly in which you feel as if you’re the one making the sacrifices, the Negotiate Confidently course can help you to secure a better outcome for yourself. We’re not suggesting you take this course and apply the learning to trivial situations like where to eat lunch, but there will be situations in which more is at stake. Training in negotiation can help you to discuss solutions in a way that the outcome has less chance of generating resentment.

Conflict resolution strategies to avoid or use sparingly

Avoidance and competition are also potential approaches to resolving conflict. We don’t suggest these as regular strategies, but there are circumstances in which they may be appropriate.

Avoidance

Although we advise against avoiding conflict and against actively seeking conflict, we understand that encountering and resolving disputes is one of the hazards and responsibilities of leadership. Shying away from conflict could lead to a situation in which the conflict escalates. Besides allowing difficult working conditions to persist, not resolving the conflict will leave it free to eat into performance and productivity, and may trigger the departure of employees from the team or organisation, forcing the leader to spend time and resources seeking a replacement. 

If you don’t have much time to deal with the situation or the outcome isn’t too important to you, it may be appropriate to sidestep the conflict and address it later. Avoiding conflict can be diplomatic, but it can convey the impression that the person doing so is unassertive or uncooperative. The University of Notre Dame, in the US, advises on its website to avoid postponing resolution to prevent the conflict from escalating. Be careful, however, not to do tackle it too quickly or without careful reflection on the situation. Otherwise, your decision could damage the manner or performance of your team. 

If you’re less assertive or lack confidence in your own conflict management skills, we’d recommend our Conflict Transformation: Tacking Conflict in the Workplace course. The course will enable you to understand the emotional dimension to the conflict, the causes of conflict, the reality behind the conflict, and more; provide you with an overview of different conflict resolution models. It will teach you how to intervene when resolving conflict. You’ll be able to deal with conflict confidently, assertively, and positively. 

Competitive

When someone engages in a competitive style of conflict resolution, they may be assertive but unwilling to cooperate and pursuing their own interests at others’ expense. This style can be appropriate if the outcome is important but not the relationship, such as when a company is competing with another company for a client. Within your own organisation, however, it isn’t. Whereas conflict resolution entails strengthening relationships, treading on others to get what you can have the opposite impact. 

Even though a competitive conflict resolution style may suit situations outside of your organisation, we’d recommend our Emotional Intelligence for Leaders course. This course looks at body language and gestures that reflect a negative state of mind, and the use of language for positive change. Understanding these elements can help you turn competitive circumstances situations such as business pitches to your advantage.

More importantly, appreciation of these components and the others in the course will enable you to operate in a less aggressive or abrasive manner within your own organisation, to produce positive outcomes from conflict situations without imposing your own will on them.

Book a course with In Professional Development

It’s important to address conflict early so that it doesn’t escalate, and some strategies are better than others to do it. Our Emotional Intelligence for Leaders, Negotiate Confidently, Leading Through Change, and, naturally, Conflict Transformation: Conflict in the Workplace courses can all help you to communicate and navigate conflict situations better.

Enrolling on the right training will make it possible to approach these tense situations in a professional manner. To find out more about these courses and book a place, click on the course link so you can begin providing the information requested. Alternatively, you can contact us via the form on our Contact page, email us at enquiries@inpd.co.uk or call on 0161 826 3139.

We’re happy to answer any questions you have about our courses, so feel free to get in touch through any of these channels for us to guide you further. We look forward to assisting you in being able to deal with conflict situations more confidently and empowering you further as a leader.


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