Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution

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  1. Learners will be able to describe causes of conflict.
  2. Learners will be able to explain strategies for resolving conflict.
  3. Learners will be able to describe the benefits of clear communication to address conflicts early.

In any job, you’re probably going to encounter workplace conflict. While conflict is natural and it doesn’t necessarily mean anyone has done anything wrong, there are definitely wrong ways to manage it. In this lesson, we’ll talk about causes of conflicts and strategies for resolving them, as well as ways we can avoid conflict to start with.

Think about a time where you've had a conflict with another person at work, school, or in another part of your life. What do you think caused the conflict? How did you respond?

Causes of Conflict

Two sets of hands pulling a rope

When we find ourselves in a conflict, it can be helpful to pinpoint the cause. Read through the common causes of conflicts below. Think about which types you've experienced.

Personality Clashes

When we think of conflicts with others, we often picture personality clashes. The way we interact with others differs from person to person, and is shaped by our experiences. While our experiences are all valid and no personality type is inherently wrong, sometimes, we have to learn new ways to interact with other people.

  • Example: Maurice prides himself on being direct. He will tell you exactly what he’s thinking, but he isn’t always tactful about it. Elliott feels like his direct style comes off mean. Maurice thinks Elliott is too sensitive.

Poor Communication

Just like we all have different personality types, we tend to have different communication styles as well. The words we choose and the way we say them can come off differently to others, and it's important to be very clear when discussing work-related topics and expectations. It's also important to ask clarifying questions if you feel like you might not understand what someone is communicating.

  • Example: Ahmed’s boss asks if he can stay a little late at work. He says he can, thinking they mean 30 minutes, at most. He stays an entire extra shift.

Different Values

Everyone has different priorities. While, for some of us, work comes first, there's nothing wrong with considering other aspects of our lives at a higher value. But when there's an opportunity for different priorities, there's also an opportunity for conflict.

  • Example: During the busy season in a retail store, Janelle takes personal time on a busy Saturday to see her daughter’s school Christmas program. Priya has a son in the same program but chooses to work since it will leave the team short-staffed if she doesn’t.

Differing Interests

It's important that we stand up for ourselves at work, but it's also important for us to understand that our needs aren't necessarily the same as everyone else's. It can cause conflict when we fail to consider the needs of others in addition to our own.

  • Example: Elaine and Jose work in an office that’s re-evaluating their working hours. Elaine would prefer to work from 7-3, while Jose and the other employees would prefer 8-4. Elaine tells their boss their team would prefer to work from 7-3.

Scarce Resources

When we're young, we spend a lot of time at school talking about sharing, and it turns out, you still have to share as an adult. While it would be nice if every job had every resource we could ever need, sometimes, there are limitations, and that can cause conflict.

  • Example: Briana works for a shipping company sorting packages in a warehouse. In her section, there is one hand truck the entire team is expected to share. Her coworker, Jason, always parks the hand truck at his station and leaves a single package on it.

Poor Performance

It can be frustrating when someone on a team doesn't pull their weight. When others have to do more because some people do less, it builds resentment and can cause conflict.

  • Example: Josh and Alexis both work for Amazon running logistics. During the day, Alexis is the supervisor, and she’s very laid back with her team. At night, Josh feels like he has to push his team harder to make up for the poor performance of Alexis’s team.
Think back to the conflict you described earlier in the lesson. Do you think your conflict fits into any of these categories?

Strategies for Resolving Conflict

Two people shaking hands

While the nature of conflicts can vary, we tend to respond to them in similar ways. By learning about conflict responses and management strategies, we can learn to handle them productively instead of letting them escalate.

Responses to Conflict

There are five common responses to conflict. As you read through them, consider which strategies might be healthier than others.

1. Avoidance

In many cases of conflict, avoidance feels like an easy fix. If you ignore the conflict, hopefully it will go away. While time can be beneficial in conflict management, time alone will not address the issues, and the conflict will likely pop up in the future.

  • Example: Isaiah wants burgers for lunch and Maria wants pasta. They decide they just won't eat lunch.

2. Accommodation

Similar to avoidance, accommodation is a way of making the conflict disappear without addressing it. One party simply chooses to give up their view and go with the other. But just like with avoidance, the problem isn't really resolved permanently.

  • Example: Isaiah wants burgers for lunch and Maria wants pasta. Maria decides to just go with Isaiah's idea and they get burgers.

3. Competing

Competition seems like a fair way of deciding conflicts - the decision is fair since one person has to win over the other. But when one person wins, the other loses, and they leave feeling like they had to give up what they wanted.

  • Example: Isaiah wants burgers for lunch and Maria wants pasta. They decide to flip a coin to decide and they end up getting burgers.
In the examples from the first three conflict resolution strategies, how do you think Maria feels? What do you think will happen next week when they disagree on what to eat for lunch?

4. Collaboration

In collaboration, instead of using any single person's original plan, the team works together to come up with a new idea that can make everyone happy.

  • Example: Isaiah wants burgers for lunch and Maria wants pasta. They decide to make cheeseburger pasta instead.

5. Compromise

Compromise is a method for finding solutions to problems in which each involved party gives up a little of their original interests. While everyone loses a little bit of what they originally wanted, compromise focuses on a fair middle ground that everyone can feel comfortable with.

  • Example: Isaiah wants burgers for lunch and Maria wants pasta. They decide to have burgers today and pasta tomorrow.
How are the last two strategies different from the first three? How do you think Maria feels in these examples?

Limiting Conflicts with Clear Communication

While every conflict can be resolved, clear communication can help resolve conflicts early on, before they can become major problems. By communicating clearly, we can express our opinions and needs in a clear manner before our emotions take over. Here are a few tips for communicating clearly in a conflict.

  • Describe the problem clearly: Focus on why it's a problem for you, and acknowledge that other people may see the issue differently
  • Explain why you want the problem resolved: Think about how it affects your performance, work culture, and other factors
  • Describe how you want the problem resolved: If you have a potential solution, mention it. It's important that you feel like your suggestions have the opportunity to be heard.
  • Meet face-to-face: We sometimes feel braver over email, messenger programs, or the phone, but we miss a lot of body language. When meeting about something important, meet face-to-face to ensure that others understand you and that you understand them.
  • Focus on the problem: It can be easy to bring up old issues when describing current problems, but it's hard to resolve more than one problem at a time. In conflict resolution, stick to the facts about the current issue and don't let your emotions pull your focus.
  • Know when to take a break: If you start to feel overwhelmed or emotional during conflict resolution, take care of yourself. Tell the others that you feel like you need time to reach a resolution and schedule a time to resume the discussion.
Try it! Watch the video below. Then, answer the questions.
Describe the problem the person in the gray jacket faced in the video. Why did she want the problem resolved?
How did the coworkers end up resolving the problem? Do you think this was a fair resolution? If not, what would you have recommended?
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