It’s Allee Millsap here. I believe today’s topic is one of the most important for defining one’s future career: how to work well with others. Many of us have already experienced conflicts in our part time jobs during high school and now in college. During my time in college thus far, I have noticed that one can look at a conflict in a negative or positive way. As Dr. Harriet B. Braiker once said, “Conflict can and should be handled constructively; when it is, relationships benefit. Conflict avoidance is *not* the hallmark of a good relationship. On the contrary, it is a symptom of serious problems and of poor communication.” The roots of so many of today’s conflicts are not due to what was said, but what was not. The very essence of a relationship is built on communication. In order to work well with others, you need to get to know the different communication styles.
I bet you all have that one friend who throws great parties. Every time you go over to his or her house you have a blast. Instead of leaving the guests to fend for themselves, the host makes sure to introduce everyone and makes them feel at home. As a host, you want to identify with the guest’s interests, skills, and personality traits in order to engage with them. If you are in this mindset in your workspace, you will be able to identify and best facilitate their communication styles. In the process of identifying different communications styles, you will also be able to learn how to address conflicts.
Understanding different conflict handling styles
Many of times when a dispute arises, it is easier to point out how others respond than our own. Each of us has our own way of coping with difficult situations. Two behavioral scientists Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which have identified five ways people generally handle conflicts – competition, collaboration, compromise, avoidance, and accommodation. There is no one right and wrong conflict style. Here is a nice compiled list from the University of Texas’ website that nicely defines each of the conflict styles:
1. Competing – A competitive style of managing conflict can be appropriate when you have to implement an unpopular decision, make a quick decision, the decision is vital in a crisis, or it is important to let others know how important an issue is to you – “standing up for your right.” The biggest disadvantage of using this style is that relationships can be harmed beyond repair and may encourage other parties to use covert methods to get their needs met because conflict with these people are reduced to – “if you are not with me, you are against me.”
2. Accommodating – You set aside your own personal needs because you want to please others in order to keep the peace. The emphasis is on preserving the relationship. Smoothing or harmonizing can result in a false solution to a problem and can create feelings in a person that range from anger to pleasure. Accommodators are unassertive and cooperative and may play the role of a martyr, complainer, or saboteur. However, accommodation can be useful when one is wrong or when you want to minimize losses when you are going to lose anyway because it preserves relationships. If you use it all the time it can become competitive – “I am nicer than you are” – and may result in reduced creativity in conflict situations and increased power imbalances.
3. Avoidance – characterized as deliberately ignoring or withdrawing from a conflict rather than facing it. This style maybe perceived as not caring about your own issue or the issues of others. People who avoid the situation hope the problem will go away, resolve itself without their involvement, or think that others are ready to take the responsibility. There are situations where avoidance is appropriate such as when you need more time to think of how to respond, time constraints demand a delay, confrontation will hurt a working relationship, or there is little chance of satisfying your needs. However, avoidance can be destructive if the other person perceives that you do not care enough to engage. By not dealing with the conflict, this style allows the conflict to simmer and heat up unnecessarily, resulting in anger or a negative outburst.
4. Compromising– demonstrates that you are willing to sacrifice some of your goals while persuading others to give up part of theirs – give a little, get a little. Compromising maintains the relationship and can take less time than collaboration and resolutions might mean splitting the difference or seeking a middle ground position. The downside to compromising is that it can be an easy way out and reduces new creative options. If you constantly split the difference or “straddle the fence,” game playing can result and the outcome could be less than ideal.
5. Collaborating – Views conflicts as problems to be solved and finding creative solutions that satisfy all the parties’ concerns. You do not give up your self-interest; you dig into the issue to identify the underlying concerns, test your own assumptions, and understand the views of others. Collaboration takes time and if the relationship among the parties is not important, then it may not be worth the time and energy to create a win-win solution. However, collaboration fosters respect, trust, and builds relationships. To make an environment more collaborative, address the conflict directly and in a way that expresses willingness for all parties to get what they need.
Tips of handling Conflicts in the Workplace
Now that you know the different styles for how people handle themselves in the workplace, it is important to see what principles you can use in addressing workplace conflict.
• Ask open ended questions – If there is some confusion with how to handle a task or you just want to gain someone else’s perspective, make sure you take the time to ask the person for their ideas, needs, opinions, and concerns.
• Listen Effectively – Problem solving requires effective listening skills. When you listen effectively, you help the person talking reduce their emotional level so they begin to think through their problem and how to resolve.
• Look for their interests – Understanding people’s interests is not a simple task because we tend to communicate our positions – things that are likely to be concrete and explicit. It is helpful to learn to recognize the difference between person’s positions and interests to assist in creative problem solving.
I hope this can help you work well with others in your workplace. Feel free to email if this helps you! We’d love to hear!