How do you handle workplace conflict?

Last week I talked about watching my daughters learn the self-management skills needed to cope and succeed as they entered into the world of work.  One area in particular has stood out for them and has often been an area that I have struggled with myself:  resolving conflict with co-workers.  I have been fortunate over the years to have a number of co-workers and managers that model effective conflict-resolution skills and through them I am learning to recognize what role I play in resolving a conflict.

By using the “Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument” (TKI) a person can describe their behaviour as: 1) Assertive (seeks to satisfy own concerns) or, 2) Cooperative (seeks to satisfy others concerns).  These two dimensions can be used to describe the five “conflict-handling modes” seen below:

All five of the conflict-handling modes shown above are appropriate in certain circumstances.  Conversely, any of these modes – used too often – will damage workplace relationships and productivity.

Competing is appropriate when: 1) a quick decision is needed and there is no time to debate the issues; 2) a difficult, or unpopular, action is required and debating the issue is pointless; 3) you know for certain that your position is correct and taking another position would be damaging; or 4) you need to protect your needs by asserting yourself. A workplace with too much competing results in a lack of feedback or input, reduced learning and low empowerment.  A workplace with too little competing results in reduced influence, indecision, delayed action and withholding of contributions for the team.

Accommodating is appropriate when: 1) you realize you’re wrong about something, or you want another position to be heard; 2) you want to allow people to experiment and learn from their mistakes; 3) you yield to another person to create goodwill; 4) the situation requires you to preserve harmony; or 5) the issue at hand is more important to the other person than it is to you. A workplace with too much accommodation results in overlooked ideas, restricted influence, loss of contribution and anarchy. A workplace with too little accommodation results in a lack of rapport, low morale, by-the-book reputation and an inability to yield to others in the team.

Avoiding is appropriate when: 1) an issue is trivial, and it makes sense to stay out of it; 2) you are in a position of little power, or in a situation over which you have little control; 3) you need to delay making a decision or taking action until you have more information; 4) you need to avoid championing causes that can and should be handled by someone else; or 5) a problem is evidence of a much larger issue. A workplace with too much avoiding results in a lack of input, default decision-making, festering issues and a climate of caution.  A workplace with too little avoiding results in hostility / hurt feelings, work overload – too many causes and a lack of prioritizing / delegation.

Collaborating is appropriate when: 1) both sides of an issue are important and an integrative solution is necessary; 2) you want to learn, test your assumptions, or understand another position; 3) you need to find an innovative solution to a complex problem; 4) getting buy-in for a decision is easier when both parties have helped create the solution; or 5) your willingness to work with other people will help build rapport in a difficult relationship. A workplace with too much collaborating results in too much time on trivial matters, diffused responsibility, people who take advantage, and work overload. A workplace with too little collaborating results in no one gaining anything, lack of commitment, low empowerment and loss of innovation.

Compromising is appropriate when: 1) an issue is somewhat important but not critical enough for competing or collaborating; 2) both parties are equally powerful and equally committed to opposing views; 3) you need a temporary solution to a complex problem and need more time to plan a better resolution; 4) time is of the essence and you need a quick solution that somewhat satisfies both parties; or 5) you start out competing or collaborating and switch to compromising in order to find resolution. A workplace with too much compromising results in loss of the big picture, lack of trust and a cynical climate.  A workplace with too little compromising results in unnecessary confrontations, frequent power struggles and an inability to negotiate effectively.

Which conflict-handling mode do you tend to use most often?

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.”
~Max Lucado

~ Kirsten, Business Manager

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