April 11, 2023

5 Conflict Resolution Styles in the Workplace

Conflict is an inevitable part of life, so it’s bound to occur in a work setting every once in a while. According to research, 85% of employees experience workplace conflict during their working lives.

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Conflict is an inevitable part of life, so it’s bound to occur in a work setting every once in a while. According to research, 85% of employees experience workplace conflict during their working lives.

As a small business owner or a manager, having awareness of the conflict resolution styles can help ensure all the members of your team get along. This is important to ensure productivity and, ultimately, the company’s growth.

The five most common conflict management styles are collaborating, compromising, competing, accommodating, and avoiding. Let’s discuss each of them, learn their pros and cons and the best times to adopt them.

1. Collaborating

The first conflict resolution style used in the workplace is collaboration. According to Niagara Institute research, it’s also the most popular conflict resolution style in workplaces worldwide.

Collaborating is a conflict management method that involves considering the interests of every party involved in a conflict situation. The aim of collaborating is to arrive at a situation that everyone involved in the conflict is happy with. Of all the conflict resolution styles, collaborating tends to produce the best results in the long run.

As a manager or small business owner, you want to hold group discussions with the parties involved in the conflict if you want to enforce this conflict management style. Make sure you listen to both sides. Give each party some acknowledgement if they raise valid points. Then,  based on what you hear, suggest a solution that takes into account the interests of all parties. 

Collaborating is one of the slowest ways to resolve a conflict because you’ll need to balance multiple interests. However, if you get it right, it’ll pay dividends in the future. It can help strengthen your company’s collaborative culture, thereby improving employee retention that’s also a key component of business success.

2. Compromising

Unfortunately, this conflict resolution style gets a bad rap for being a “lose-lose” way to end conflicts.

Compromising involves convincing everyone involved in the conflict to make sacrifices. The parties have to give up one or two of their individual demands in order to find a middle ground and move forward on a larger issue. Businesses tend to resort to this conflict management method when they’re pressed for time.

So, let’s say one employee is convinced social media marketing is the best way to promote a newly-launched SaaS product. Another, however, believes it’s email marketing. To resolve the conflict, you as the business owner or manager might decide to implement a SaaS marketing strategy that combines email and social media elements. This is something both employees involved in the conflict won’t like. After all, they’re both convinced theirs is the better option.

Although this compromising style allows you to solve conflicts quickly, it’s kind of hard to get to that point when both parties are willing to give up something. If you do manage to get them to compromise, it’s also possible they’ll feel even more resentment towards each other and even towards you.

That’s why as a manager or small business owner, don’t rely on this conflict resolution method too frequently. Only use it when it’s absolutely necessary to move past the conflict to meet business or team goals on time.

3. Competing

Competing is the most forceful conflict management style that's used in the workplace. In this conflict resolution style, managers or business owners take the reins and enforce what they think is right, regardless of what the parties in conflict argue. 

Assume your colleague is at loggerheads with a team member because of what they believe are the former’s wrongly crafted sales strategies. Under the competing conflict management style, you decide whether or not those sales strategies will work. You might even ask someone else to craft new sales tactics to resolve the conflict. The point is, you leverage your authority to put a stop to the conflict, without necessarily hearing both sides.

The disadvantage of adopting a competing style of conflict resolution is that it can foster animosity. When you take an uncompromising stance and make unpopular decisions all the time, you can earn a reputation for being an unreasonable leader. No one wants a boss who doesn’t practice active listening and just dictates what they want.

That’s not to say you should no longer use this conflict management style. The truth is. Like the compromising approach, it can work wonders especially when time is an issue.

For instance, if you yourself make a quick decision not to use a specific brochure font style, you can prevent your team members from further wasting their time and efforts in bickering about which one to use. The result is that they can move on to other more important things, like deciding where to distribute the brochures or determining how many brochures to produce. Since you don’t get stuck in one aspect of the marketing campaign, you can get things done immediately and, ultimately, reach your team and company goals.

4. Accommodating

The accommodating style is one of the most common conflict styles used in the workplace. An accommodating style involves one party involved in the conflict self-sacrificing for the greater good.

Let’s assume a member of your marketing team thinks a rebrand is necessary to boost sales. Another, however, strongly disagrees, and says an intensified social media marketing strategy will do the trick. In an accommodating conflict resolution scenario, one of them will give in to the other just to get the marketing campaign started. The issue is no longer who’s wrong or who’s right. The issue is how they can get past the conflict to get things done.

As a manager or small business owner, it can be hard to get one member of your team to completely yield to the other. You can, however, increase the possibility of this happening by laying down the benefits of conceding. For instance, you can emphasize how your team can meet overall goals if the project gets started on time with the conflict finally resolved.

For the best results, do not blindly side with one employee or the other. You don’t want to be accused of favoritism. That might just lead to the conceding employee just harboring resentment toward you. If you really think one of them has a point, say so, but make sure you lay down your reasons for this. Your reasons should, of course, be logical and, if possible, quantifiable. This way, the other employee will find it difficult to disprove your argument. Then, wrap it up with how conflict resolution will ultimately redound to everyone’s benefit.

Adopt this conflict resolution strategy if you want your project to progress without the relationships among your team members involved in a conflict deteriorating. After all, with this strategy, you make it clear to the conceding party that they’re a great team player. Without them self-sacrificing, after all, the team wouldn’t be able to achieve its objectives.

5. Avoiding

Here’s another one of the styles of conflict management some businesses–4.6% of the total, according to the Niagara Institute—use in the workplace. Just a disclaimer, though: this style isn't the most effective. 

Managers or business owners who use the avoiding conflict management strategy basically just separate the “warring” parties. So, a marketing staff member who might be butting heads with their colleague may just be transferred to the sales department, for example.

In other words, you don’t really address the underlying cause of the conflict. Since the employees still harbor ill feelings against each other, when they bump into each other unexpectedly, you can expect the worst. With all their emotions bottled up inside, it isn’t unlikely they’ll figure in even bigger future conflicts.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you should shun the avoiding conflict resolution style in its entirety. There are some instances where an avoidant approach to conflict management may be your best option. You can use this approach when:

  • The conflict appears to be trivial. 
  • When the conflict already negatively impacts your team's productivity and not one of the parties refuses to give in
  • When you don't have an immediate solution to the conflict

Except in these exceptional circumstances, use this conflict management style as a last resort. Consider it only as a stopgap measure when all else fails.

Conclusion

As a manager or small business owner, you want to ensure everyone in your team gets along. After all, it’s the key to great teamwork that, in turn, ensures the achievement of goals.

That’s why you have to make sure you resolve ensuing conflicts. You can do that if you know the five conflict resolution styles you can implement at work. From the collaborating to the compromising and avoiding approaches, you have many options.

But don’t just use the same conflict management style every time a situation arises. You need to know the specific circumstances that led to the problem. With a good understanding of the issue, you can decide the best conflict resolution style that might just help you restore and even improve team relationships. Good luck!

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Aryan Vaksh

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