Effective Conflict Management for Leaders
Conflict. It’s something that many of us prefer to avoid, but it can often be unavoidable. It’s a natural, if not always pleasant part of dealing with people. As leaders, it’s important that we understand the best and most effective ways to manage conflict in the workplace.
Various studies have been conducted to assess how much time senior leaders and managers spend dealing with conflict. The results show that it’s potentially a staggering 40% of their time.
Good conflict management skills can help you reduce this. When you can identify your colleague’s own conflict and personality styles it gives you the ability to communicate with them from the start in a more productive way. Sometimes you will be able to head off issues even before they occur.
Why does conflict arise?
Conflict can arise for a number of different reasons, but some of the most common are:
- Poor Communication
- Personality Clashes
- Significant Changes
It’s important to recognise that conflict is simply a situation where the concerns of two or more people don’t match. It isn’t, in itself a bad or disruptive situation. In fact, some of the best and most productive discussions can arise when you know how to handle conflict effectively.
How can you best manage conflict as a leader?
The first step to managing conflict is to understand how you, and your team, handle conflict. With my clients, I use a tool called the Thomas–Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument™ or TKI. The TKI involves filling in a questionnaire, which breaks down your conflict behaviour into two basic dimensions:
- Assertiveness: This relates to how much you aim to satisfy your own concerns during a conflict situation.
- Cooperativeness: This relates to how you aim to satisfy the other person’s concerns.
Using these two dimensions as a scale, the TKI identifies 5 different conflict handling modes. After filling in the questionnaire, the results are analysed, and you receive a report that breaks down your own preferred conflict handling behaviour between the 5 different modes.
The 5 modes of conflict management
Competing is at the top of the assertive scale. It’s a very power-oriented mode where the person using this mode will ‘fight their corner’ using whatever tools or authority are at their disposal.
In a positive capacity, the competing mode can be used to stand up for your rights or to gain a quick decision for an important or urgent matter. The downsides are that it can leave others feeling resentful, and potentially better solutions may be overlooked.
Accommodating is the other end of the scale, the highest level of cooperativeness. It’s the complete opposite of competing. Someone using this mode will favour satisfying the concerns of the other person over satisfying their own.
Accommodating can be very good for relationship building, and is an appropriate method to use if it becomes clear during discussions that the other person’s concerns are very valid, or if you believe your initial concerns were somehow wrong. Accommodating too often and in the wrong situations can lead to you being seen as a ‘pushover.’
The collaborating mode draws elements from both assertiveness and cooperativeness. In this mode, a person will try to find common ground and identify a solution that satisfies all or most of the concerns of both parties.
Collaborating often leads to higher satisfaction across both parties, can strengthen relationships and often provides great solutions. However, it can be very time intensive and needs both parties to have very good interpersonal skills. It’s best used in situations where the issue to be resolved is important but not urgent.
Avoiding is at the bottom of both scales. It’s completely unassertive and completely uncooperative. In this mode, a person ignores or walks away from the conflict.
Avoiding can be appropriate in some circumstances. For example, where emotions are running high, or if the conflict is likely to have a highly detrimental impact on you. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to use avoiding as an initial mode, and simply postpone the conflict until a time when you have the mental and emotional resources to deal with it.
Using the avoiding mode inappropriately can lead to delays in finding a resolution and can also cause resentment.
Compromising sits in the middle of both assertiveness and cooperativeness. In this mode, a person tries to work with the other party to find a solution that partially satisfies all concerns. The difference between compromising and collaborating is that when in compromising mode, the person is accepting that the solution doesn’t have to fully satisfy everybody’s concerns.
Compromising is often a faster resolution than collaborating, and so it can be a more suitable mode for issues that need a more urgent resolution. It provides a way to allow both parties to feel they have been fairly considered, but there is a risk that the solution won’t address all the points it needs to. Compromising is a good choice for urgent, but not important issues.
Which is the best conflict management mode?
There’s no one right method to use. Each method has situations where it’s often the most appropriate mode to use, so being able to identify and employ the right mode at the right time is essential for smooth conflict management. Even avoiding has its place in appropriate conflict management.
Most people have preferred modes that they rely on more often but can switch between the various methods depending on the situation. Some people will rely almost exclusively on one mode. The mode you choose is dependent on both the situation, your natural preferences and which modes you have developed the most skills in.
Most of the time our choice of which mode to use is made automatically, but once you have an understanding of the different modes and the situations and people they work best with, you will be able to make a more conscious choice of which style to use.
Developing skills in the modes you are currently less skilled in can help you manage conflict in a more balanced manner as you have more tools at your disposal to use.
Executive coaching for conflict management
I’m Andrea Goodridge, a coach and leadership development consultant. I work with senior leaders who want to stop worrying and overthinking, believe in their abilities and fall back in love with their work.
If you’d like to learn more about managing conflict effectively as a leader and want to take the next step, book in a call with me to see how I can help you handle conflict more positively, get the results you need, and rebuild your confidence.
Andrea helps you focus on leading yourself first, so you can be a great leader. Start getting your regular dose of leadership tips and inspiration with the ‘Leadership Breather’ – encouraging you to give yourself a breather and take 5 minutes for you.