Essential Soft Skills: Effectively Managing Conflict

Essential Soft Skills: Effectively Managing Conflict
Essential Soft Skills: Effectively Managing Conflict
Essential Soft Skills: Effectively Managing Conflict

Essential Soft Skills: Effectively Managing Conflict

“Conflicts that are allowed to fester and grow will ultimately diminish productivity and damage staff morale. It is why employers seek employees with the skills to manage and diffuse conflict.” (Doyle, 2018)

Whether you work in an office or on a factory floor, you can encounter conflict. Whether it is a difference of opinion between a manager and employee, or a colleague and a client, being able to navigate through conflict is a necessary skill set. Everything you say and do during a conflict is an extension of how you perceive, think, and feel about conflict.

In addition to providing academic theory and technical expertise, the graduate programs at Kettering University Online provide students with opportunities to hone their soft skills such as effective interpersonal communication and conflict management.

Views of Conflict

There are two views of conflict – historical and contemporary. The historical view of conflict suggests that conflict is a battle to be won. You can easily identify the people who think of conflict in this way because when they talk about conflict, they use the battle language: “Did you win that argument?” “You might have lost the battle, but you will win the war.” “What was the fight about?”

This view of conflict presupposes that the result of conflict is that one person wins and the other loses. This win-lose attitude is not only unpleasant, but it minimizes the opportunity for creative problem-solving, damages morale, and can jeopardize relationships.

The contemporary view of conflict frames things differently. Those who see conflict this way view it not as a battle to be won but as a problem to be solved. Thinking in this way can help to diffuse strong emotions. Once emotions are set aside, it is much more likely that the parties involved can manage the conflict in a constructive way.

For many, the word conflict is inextricably associated with anxiety and stress and so they spend time trying to avoid it. However, it is impossible to avoid conflict because conflict always arises in situations where people have goals, ideas, and plans that are incompatible with another.

Examine the conflict management styles below and take a moment to consider which style is your default:

Conflict Management Styles  

Those who deal with conflict in positive and beneficial ways have likely practiced some self-reflection. They also 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 manages conflict.

Assessing which conflict management style you rely upon most is the first step toward becoming more aware of how to manage conflict in productive ways. There are five conflict management styles:

1. Avoid

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. Avoiding conflicts does not solve problems; it only enhances tension and anxiety.

2. Accommodate

When one uses this style, he or she is likely to submit 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 conflict.

3. Compromise

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.

4. Compete

This style is all about a win-lose resolution. Instead of 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.

5. Collaborate

Collaboration is the best example of a win-win scenario. Those involved in the conflict understand that the experience of conflict can lead to a win-win scenario. In order to collaborate successfully, 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 style to leave participants feeling understood and validated instead of frustrated and neglected.

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.

Not all conflicts are the same; as such, the style you should use is dependent upon the context of the conflict. For example, if your physical or emotional safety is being threatened, removing yourself from the situation is likely the best choice. Therefore, the style that makes the most sense in this case is avoidance.

Conflict can be a healthy part of our personal and professional lives if we figure out what we can do to manage it better. Working to get your needs met while respecting the needs of the other party requires compassion, empathy, respect, and perhaps even a willingness to change a behavior.  

Understanding and working to change how you think about and manage conflict can reduce the stress and anxiety often associated with it, leaving more room for effective communication, comprehensive solutions, and enhanced personal and professional relationships.