“Peace of mind is not the absence of conflict from life, but the ability to cope with it.” – Unknown
Managing conflict with employees can be tricky, but it comes with the job of leader. Effective leaders learn to manage conflict while respecting and guiding employees. They also set an example of how to participate in conflict. Today’s blog focuses on the stages of conflict and the different styles of conflict management.
Generally speaking, there are two views of conflict – a historical view and a contemporary view. The historical view of conflict sees conflict as a battle to be won. This philosophy can certainly be heard in the language used. The language of conflict is often the language of battle – “Did you win that argument?” “You might have lost the battle but you will win the war.” This view presupposes that one person wins and the other loses when negotiating conflict.H
The contemporary view of conflict frames the thinking differently. This view sees conflict not as a battle to be won but as a problem to be solved. This view makes it much more likely that the conflict will be handled in a way that both solves the problem and strengthens the relationship.
The five stages of conflict
Conflict can be associated with anxiety and stress; making some try to avoid it. Avoiding conflict is impossible; conflict is everywhere. It arises within us, as well as, in our personal and professional relationships. Learning how to negotiate conflict is more productive than running from it. The first lesson is understanding conflict’s five stages:
- Latent Stage: Participants not yet aware of conflict
- Perceived Stage: Participants aware a conflict exists
- Felt Stage: Stress and anxiety
- Manifest: Conflict is open and can be observed
- Aftermath: Outcome of conflict, resolution or dissolution
Now that you know the stages of conflict, it is important to understand the various ways individuals manage it.
Five conflict management styles
“You can turn conflict into connection by containing your defensiveness.” – Carolyn Davis
Those who deal with conflict in positive and beneficial ways understand that conflict is, in and of itself, value neutral. This means that conflict is neither good nor bad. What is good or bad is the way one handles it. Read the conflict management styles and reflect on your own relationship with conflict.
Those who avoid conflict consistently create ways to do so. He or she might avoid the person with whom they are having conflict or he or she might talk to the person but avoid or “sidestep” conversation about the conflict.
When one uses this style, he or she is likely to “give in” to the other person. This style often resolves the conflict quickly and easily. The problem is that the person who accommodates usually does not get any of their needs met. They acquiesce to the other person thus ending the immediate conflict, but resentment can build leading to another conflict.
At first glance, this style seems to be a positive and effective way to handle conflict. Each person “gives a little to get a little”. This is definitely a better way to handle conflict than avoiding or accommodating but by using this style each person makes a sacrifice in order to end the conflict quickly and satisfactorily.
When parties collaborate, they understand that conflict can lead to a win-win scenario. To successfully collaborate, both parties work together to find a mutually satisfying solution that meets their needs. This style takes time and commitment, and it is the most likely of all the styles to leave participants feeling understood and validated instead of frustrated and neglected.
This style is all about a win-lose resolution. Instead of effective communication and working together, those who see conflict as a competition are more likely to disregard the needs of the other person to get what he or she wants.
“Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” – William James
In much the same way as conflict itself is value neutral so are its management styles. Although collaboration is usually the most productive and desirable way of handling a conflict, it is not always prudent to use that style. Sometimes, the style used is dependent upon the context of the conflict. For example, if one’s physical or emotional safety is being threatened, removing oneself from the situation is likely the best choice. The style that makes the most sense in this case is avoidance.
Understanding how to think about conflict, its stages and management styles, can limit the stress and anxiety often associated with managing conflict, leaving more room for effective communication, comprehensive solutions and enhanced personal and professional relationships.
Learn how Kettering University Online can help you hone your management and conflict resolution skills, visit our Master of Science Engineering Management Page.