While no single definition of conflict exists, most definitions involve the following factors: there are at least two independent groups, the groups perceive some incompatibility between themselves, and the groups interact with each other in some way.
Two example definitions are: “process in which one party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party”, and “the interactive process manifested in incompatibility, disagreement, or dissonance within or between social entities” (Rahim, 1992, p. 16); (Putnam and Poole, 1987).
Conflict management refers to techniques and ideas designed to reduce the negative effects of conflict and enhance the positive outcomes for all parties involved.
When conflict is effectively managed, it can be instrumental in solving problems and building teamwork. On the other hand, when trainers lack conflict management competency, conflict tends to take a destructive path, creating enormous problems and breaking down teamwork. The most dramatic cost of conflict management incompetency is not the litigation costs; it’s the overall loss of productivity, participant engagement, and teamwork.
There are several causes of conflict. Conflict may occur when:
- A party is required to engage in an activity that is incongruent with his or her needs or interests.
- A party holds behavioral preferences, the satisfaction of which is incompatible with another person’s implementation of his or her preferences.
- A party wants some mutually desirable resource that is in short supply, such that the wants of all parties involved may not be satisfied fully.
- A party possesses attitudes, values, skills, and goals that are noticeable in directing his or her behavior but are perceived to be exclusive of the attitudes, values, skills, and goals held by the other(s).
- Two parties have partially exclusive behavioral preferences regarding their joint actions.
- Two parties are interdependent in the performance of functions or activities.
Substantive versus affective conflict
The overarching hierarchy of conflict starts with a distinction between substantive (also called performance, task, issue, or active) conflict and affective (also called relationship) conflict.
If one could make a distinction between good and bad conflict, substantive would be good and effective conflict would be bad.
Substantive and affective conflict are related.
Substantive conflict involves disagreements among group members about the content of the tasks being performed or the performance itself. This type of conflict occurs when two or more social entities disagree on the recognition and solution to a task problem, including differences in viewpoints, ideas, and opinions.
Affective conflict deals with interpersonal relationships or incompatibilities not directly related to achieving the group’s function. Both substantive and affective conflict is negatively related to team member satisfaction and team performance. Contradicting this, 20% (5 of 25) of the studies used showed a positive correlation between substantive conflict and task performance. (De Drue and Weingart, 2003); (DeChurch & Marks, 2001; Jehn, 1995).
Conflict management competency requires the following behaviors:
- Assertiveness in initiating difficult conversations
- Objective, empathic listening
- Avoiding the blame game
- Asking open-ended questions
- Directing without controlling
- Staying centered; focusing on the desired outcome
- Not taking comments as personal attacks
- Converting reactions into responses
- Negotiating win-win outcomes
Types of Conflicts
- Miscommunication: A misunderstanding of the other’s position or viewpoint. There is an agreement, but both think there is disagreement due to poor communication or previous assumptions.
- Operations/procedural: A disagreement over the right course of action for a given situation. One person may have a preferred way to proceed that differs from the other person’s. One says “X”; the other says “Y.”
- Personal/values: Conflict based on one person believing he/she is being personally attacked or his/ her core values/beliefs are being challenged.
Steps to Resolve Conflicts
- Identify, describe, and communicate the conflict • State your position clearly through the use of “I” language • Listen and acknowledge the other’s position
- Create a common statement of the issue • Is the issue operational or personal? • What are the areas of agreement? • What are the areas of disagreement?
- Explore and identify causes • Define each other’s goals and priorities* • Explore what is causing the conflict – values, strategy, or methods*
- Generate and negotiate common solutions • Brainstorm alternatives • Identify the other’s preferred solutions • Negotiate – what must each person do more of, less of, or differently?
- Develop a plan • Decide who, what, when, where, and how • Put the plan in writing as needed • Schedule follow-up for review
* The use of open-ended questions and active listening is essential at these points.
“Listening with understanding,” is little more than being a good listener—something every trainer should be. Sometimes the simple process of being able to vent one’s feelings—that is, to express them to a concerned and understanding listener, is enough to relieve frustration and make it possible for the frustrated individual to advance to a problem-solving frame of mind, better able to cope with a personal difficulty that is affecting his work adversely.
The nondirective approach is one effective way for trainers to deal with frustrated participants and/or co-trainers. Other more direct and more diagnostic ways might be used in appropriate circumstances. The great strength of the nondirective approach, however, lies in its simplicity, its effectiveness, and the fact that it deliberately avoids the trainer diagnosing and interpreting emotional problems, which would call for special psychological training. No one has ever been harmed by being listened to sympathetically and understandingly. On the contrary, this approach has helped many people to cope with problems that were interfering with their effectiveness on the job.]
Why did I choose this tool?
A professional trainer spends most of the day on facilitating, therefore it is usual to meet with conflicts, whether is with co-trainers, coordinator or simply participants. According to these, this subject is very important to reconsider and working on self resolving-conflict-management-competence. It is not only to learn how to but to participate in maybe a few workshops on how to deal with conflict management before performing in front of the participants. The subject warrants emphasis on enabling participants to deal with conflict management too.
It is also the responsibility of trainers to react. One option is to identify the skills needed in the situation, but if the skills for creating workplace fairness are already lacking, it may be best to have an outside help (coordinator or other co-trainers).
The feedback the participant receives is detailed, behaviorally specific, and high quality. This is needed for the participant to learn how to change their behavior. In this regard, it is also important that the participant take time to self-reflect so that learning may occur.
Every conflict that we as trainers are facing is helping us to strengthen our skills and behaviors too. The role of the trainer is constantly developing and progressing and resolving conflict management is one huge step to that process.
Suggested Reflection Questions
- On a scale of 1-5, how comfortable are you, with having difficult conversations?
- What is your go-to method for handling a conflict with the participants? E-mail, phone, face-to-face or other?
- Is it hard for you to manage your emotions effectively when talking about a challenging or fear-inducing situation?
- How do you create an open dialogue with your team, regardless of difficult circumstances?
- How do you exhibit poise and self-control in the presence of confrontations?
- How comfortable are you with giving what might be perceived as negative feedback?
If your answers to the above are less than appealing, the following tips can guide you to build a healthy workplace culture that faces confrontation at the right time with courage and confidence:
- Identify the opportunity. Shift the lens through which you view conflict. By adopting a positive outlook on confrontation, you’ll discover that every conflict is a new opportunity for both the other party and you to grow, develop and learn. After all, if you have tended to avoid conflict, the underlying topics and details are likely things that you have rarely if ever, discussed, representing growth opportunities and innovative approaches you have yet to uncover.
- Build a culture that encourages giving and receiving feedback. Ask your team for their frequent, healthy feedback, and you will begin to show boldness and encourage transparency through your example. Allowing unpleasant truths to trickle out gradually fosters a sense of camaraderie and understanding within your organization, in turn reducing the risk of future conflict. What’s more, creating honest dialogue lets your participants know their opinions are valued, raising their level of engagement. Finally, when confrontations do arise, they will feel far more inclined to receive your concerns with an open mind and an appreciation of your opinion instead of reflexively thinking the sky is falling.
- Be proactive, but resist jumping to conclusions. Prevent problematic behavior from escalating beyond repair by taking swift action, but do not jump to conclusions before reaching a full understanding of the situation. Assume positive intent to immediately activate a spirit that diffuses the situation. Another way to be proactive is to measure your words to avoid being the source of conflict in the first place. Saying, “I need to see you after the session/training….” has the potential to spiral reactions that “Can we prioritize the risks of your situation in the team in general after the session?” would otherwise sidestep.
- Do not use e-mail for conflict. If e-mail is your go-to to manage conflict, it is time to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. Let your level of fear be your compass. The more emotion you are feeling, the more the situation is likely to be faced in person. If you don’t, you are subjecting yourself to the gravitational forces that pull these types of situations southward. Effective conflict management will require real-time awareness of the facts and your undivided attention.
- Engage productively using storytelling. Before any confrontation, consider that the other person may be right from the beginning and question your own opinion. When you do present your concerns, start with storytelling if you can, rather than headlining with any abrupt, premature summaries of your stance on the matter(s) at hand. We experience our lives through stories, which are entertaining and engaging. Make your case and then create space for the other person to process and respond to you, and truly listen to them.
- Using Humor To Alleviate The Burden Of Confrontation
Now it’s all in the delivery, and every relationship requires its own special touch, but humor and storytelling, are much more effective than just sending an instant message or e-mail. Wouldn’t that be ironic saying, “Why don’t you answer any of my e-mails?”
By being fully accountable to the demands of leadership, and committing yourself to the above steps, almost every confrontation you have can be redirected toward a productive outcome. Those former self-doubts and insecurities that hindered your ability to face conflict will be replaced with confident, courageous resolve and an understanding of the healthy dynamics that can move your business forward faster than you ever thought possible.
Funny how this sensitive real-life problem you can turn into a game.
Debate vs Dialogue Conflict Management Activity
- Funny how this sensitive real-life problem you can turn into a game.Debate vs Dialogue Conflict Management Activity
- Ask the participants to work in pairs.
- Ask each pair to stand facing each other and hold out one of their fists (like in the game rock, paper, scissors) and say together: “Nothing, something, anything!” Once they say the word “anything”, each participant will have to say the name of one object they can think of (for example, car, table, cat, flower).
- Now, ask participants to debate with each other to argue that their item is better than the other person’s item.
- Give them about 3 minutes to debate. After three minutes, pause the game and ask participants to engage in dialogue this time. This means asking each other questions about their items, listening to the answers and coming to an agreement between them. Allow them about 5 minutes for this.
- At the end of the exercise, start a discussion with the whole class.
- Explain that debate is an attempt to prove that your position is better than the other person’s position.
The aim is to ‘win’ over the other person by finding faults in the other person’s position.
7. A dialogue instead is about understanding and cooperation. The aim of the dialogue is to reach mutual understanding while valuing the strengths of the other person’s position.
Questions you can ask to start the discussion might include:
- How did you feel about each situation (debate vs dialogue)?
- How did you react to each situation?
- How would you behave in real conflict situations?
- How did things change when you switched from debate to dialogue?
- Is it difficult to listen when somebody disagrees with you? Why? How did you come to an agreement?