Overcome Your Fear of Confrontation and Conflict

May 18th, 2017

Build Your Conflict Resolution Skills

Multi-ethnic business people having a meaningful and appropriate confrontation.

A former colleague holds complete conversations in his head with people with whom he is angry. He rarely speaks directly with the other person. This anger in his mind continues to build because of his frustration, yet he never lets the other person know that he is frustrated and subsequently angry.

His conflict avoidance almost cost him his marriage because he didn’t let his wife into the conversations he was having with her but by himself.

It was almost too late by the time he did bring her into the real conversation.

His need to avoid confrontation is so strong that he has a safe confrontation in his mind and feels that he has dealt with the issue. As you can imagine, this doesn’t work – especially for the other person involved.

Are you guilty of holding mental conflicts and confrontations?

Many people are uncomfortable when it comes to confrontation. I understand the concept of having the conversation in your head; so you can plan out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Sometimes these mental conversations are enough to settle the issue, as you realize you are making too much out of a simple situation.

I know that I have spent hours lying in bed at night having conversations with people with whom I am angry and frustrated. Not only does this practice disrupt your sleep, your attitude, and your health, it never really resolves the issue, and is potentially damaging to your relationships.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that you need to confront every action. If you have the conversation once in your head, don’t worry about it. If it comes back and you have it again, perhaps start thinking about holding a real conversation.

By the third in your head confrontation, you need to start planning how you will deal with the real confrontation because it looks as if you are going to need to do that.

How to Hold a Real, Necessary Conflict or Confrontation

Start by preparing yourself to confront the real issue. Be able to state the issue in one (or two), non-emotional, factual based sentences.

For example, assume you want to confront your coworker for taking all of the credit for the work that the two of you did together on a project. Instead of saying, “You took all the credit, blah, blah, blah…” and venting your frustration, which is what you might say in your mind, rephrase your approach using the above guidelines.

Say instead, “It looks as if I played no role in the Johnson account. My name does not appear anywhere on the document, nor I have been given credit anywhere that I can see.”

(I’ve used additional communication techniques such as I-language as well in this statement. Notice that I avoided using the words I feel because that is an emotional statement, without proof and facts. The facts in this statement cannot be disputed, but an I feel statement is easy for your coworker to refute.)

Make your initial statement and stop talking.

When the person you are confronting responds, allow them to respond. It’s a human tendency, but don’t make the mistake of adding to your initial statement, to further justify the statement.

Defending why you feel the way you do will generally just create an argument. Say what you want to say (the confrontation), then just allow the other person to respond.

Especially since you’ve probably held the conversation in your head a few times, you may think you know how the other person is going to respond. But, it’s a mistake to jump to that point before they have the opportunity to respond. Resist the temptation to say anything else at this point. Let them respond.

Avoid arguing during the confrontation.

Confrontation does not mean fight. It means that you need to state what you have say. Listen to what they have to say. Many times it actually ends right there.

Do you need to prove the other person right or wrong? Does someone have to take the blame? Get your frustration off your chest, and move on.

Figure out the conflict resolution you want before the confrontation.

If you approached your coworker with the initial statement, “You took all the credit, blah, blah, blah…” her response is likely going to be quite defensive. Perhaps she’ll say something like, “Yes, you have been given credit. I said both of our names to the boss just last week.”

If you already know what you are looking for in the confrontation, this is where you move the conversation. Don’t get into an argument about whether she did or didn’t mention anything to the boss last week – that isn’t really the issue and don’t let it distract you from accomplishing the goal of the confrontation.

Your response could be, “I would appreciate if in the future that we use both of our names on any documentation, and include each other in all of the correspondence about the project.”

Focus on the real issue of the confrontation.

The other party will either agree or disagree. Keep to the issue at this point, and avoid all temptation to get into an argument. Negotiate, but don’t fight.

The issue is you aren’t receiving credit, and you want your name on the documentation. That’s it. It isn’t about blame, about who is right or wrong or anything other than your desired resolution.

You will rarely look forward to confrontation; you may never become completely comfortable with, or even skilled in confrontation. However, it is important that you say something when you are frustrated and angry. If you can’t stand up for yourself, who will?

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We Are All Mediators: How to Solve Conflict in the Workplace

May 18th, 2017

business analyst Conflict HandshakeMost employees and managers have a story about a conflict in the workplace that got out of hand. Sometimes, the events remain in the past, but sometimes they take root and lead to rifts within an office. 

Cold exchanges are made in the breakroom, two employees avoid eye contact in meetings, and projects slow to a crawl because of a breakdown in communication.

This all can be avoided with solid conflict resolution techniques.

Next time a problem flares up in the office, follow this method to identify the problems, find solutions and work toward fostering a positive team environment.

Conflict Occurs in Every Workplace

Even the most congenial offices face workplace conflicts throughout the year.

A.J. O’Connor Associates reports that American employees spend an average of 2.8 hours per week managing conflict, which results in $435 billion in lost productivity annually. The differences between a cooperative and a toxic office lie in how long problems take to get solved.

However, the survey also shows that conflict can be an opportunity for growth. In fact, 75 percent of employees said they have experienced positive outcomes from a well-managed conflict that might not have occurred without the conflict in the first place.

The key phrase here is “well-managed conflict,” as so many problems within the workplace are handled poorly.

The Two Types of Workplace Conflict

Before you can start to solve conflicts in your office, you need to know the types of conflict you’re dealing with.

In a study of 2,100 UK employees, CIPD found that 38 percent of employees experienced some sort of interpersonal conflict at work in the past year, and 25 percent said conflict is a normal part of the workplace. The team at CIPD then divides these incidents into two types: isolated disputes and ongoing conflict relationships.

While an isolated dispute occurs because of an event and can may only last a few days, ongoing conflict relationships can last for months and build with every new problem.

The type of conflict you’re dealing with will dictate how you solve the problem, but understand that they aren’t mutually exclusive conflicts — an isolated dispute handled poorly can lead to an ongoing conflict.

Addressing Conflict is a Key Management Skill

Business Analyst Conflict Meeting

Regardless of the level or severity of the issue, conflict needs to be addressed. The question is how it should be addressed.

The leadership team doesn’t have to step into every disagreement, but they should be able to in order to prevent problems from growing out of control.

“Leaders and employees who are not trained in conflict resolution often do not understand that conflict can be resolved as quickly as it comes on,” Dr. Bill Howatt writes at The Globe and Mail. “But when they are not resolved in a collaborative way and instead are left to fester, then the conflict has the opportunity to escalate.”

Howatt writes that conflict is a natural part of the workplace and can lead to important changes and a better understanding through communication.

Glenn Llopis agrees with Howatt. He says the tension must be addressed head-on, and management shouldn’t assume that the employee’s frustration will subside over time.

“Adversity is very big when it is all you can see,” he writes. “But it is very small when in the presence of all else that surrounds you.”

Acknowledging your colleague’s or your employee’s perspective (even if they’re still not getting their way) can validate their feelings and help both of you move toward a solution.

Evaluating the Severity of the Conflict

Before you address the conflict, you should evaluate the working relationship between the two parties in question. This will help you decide whether you should get involved or step back.

“In all of these cases, leaders need to consider two basic questions,” Tom Fox writes at the Washington Post. “How important is the issue? And, how important is this relationship? Your answers will determine whether to let it slide or try to resolve it.”

Fox highlights the relationship between employees and managers as an example. This is a highly important relationship, as both parties will have to keep working together even after the issue is solved. In this case, a third-party mediator (like a co-worker or higher-level employee) could help create a platform for communication.

Five Steps to Mediate Workplace Conflict

When mediating between two parties, it helps to have an established framework to use in order to fairly evaluate both sides. By being fair and procedural, you reduce the risk of isolated incidents becoming ongoing relationship conflicts.

Dr. Beverly Flaxington has created a five-step sample model that you can apply to most conflicts:

  1. Specify the desired outcome: Let each party explain what they’re hoping to achieve.
  2. Highlight and categorize the obstacles: Let each side voice their problems with the other’s goals or solutions.
  3. Identify the stakeholders: Talk about who will be affected by the decision outside of this meeting.
  4. Brainstorm possible alternatives: Find ways to meet in the middle or use a third option to solve the conflict.
  5. Take action based on the solution: By taking immediate action, you show that the discussion is over and there’s no point fighting against the decision.

Again, by giving both parties a fair chance to lobby for their choices, you’re validating your team members and treating them with respect.

Emotion and Fact Are Often Hard to Separate

Business Analyst Conflict Argue

“Humans are creatures of emotion,” writesReuben Yonatan, CEO of GetVoIP. “If you haven’t already realized how combative people can become when they think their ideas are under attack, you’ll learn soon enough within a team setting.”

Most, if not all, conflict will be tied to some sort of emotion. Your goal as a leader is to separate the facts from the emotion and make the best possible decision.

For example, an employee might fight back against a new process because he says it’s too complex, but his real issue could be a fear of change or disengagement within the company. One incident is a symptom of a larger problem.

“When we are under stress, we revert to our primitive fight or flight response — the brain doesn’t appreciate that it’s not a lion attack but an irritable colleague,” Macarena Mata writes at HRZone.

“In very quick succession, effective communication becomes less effective, assumptions become ‘facts,’ psychological insecurities become our platform of communication and suddenly destructive workplace conflict erupts.”

Tapping Into Workplace Emotional Intelligence

The fact that conflict is so closely tied to emotion highlights the value of emotional intelligence in the workplace. Emotional intelligence is your ability to accurately track your emotions as they happen and evaluate the emotions of others. It is your ability to control how you react in certain situations while understanding why others might react differently.

Dr. Travis Bradberry reports that emotional intelligence (the foundation for traits like empathy, change tolerance and problem solving) is one of the most useful workplace skills and accounts for 58 percent of success in most positions.

He found that 90 percent of effective performers have high levels of emotional intelligence, but only 20 percent of the bottom performers do.

Learning to Recognize When You’re the Problem

In an article for She Owns It, Karen Doniere admits that it’s not a comfortable feeling to realize that there are emotional problems, cultural differences or generational rifts at the root of a problem — especially when it’s your own biases holding the team back.

However, if you’re mature enough to accept responsibility for the conflict and move forward, you can prevent the other parties from having a long-term personal conflict with you.

Identifying emotions can actually help managers resolve conflicts. By isolating the facts, they can focus on the core issues at hand instead of getting involved in personal disagreements.

Overcoming Your Fear of Conflict

The modern workplace has trained us to avoid conflict.

Employees worry about losing their jobs if they confront problems, and many managers are likewise scared to face issues and address their employees’ concerns. But the best managers know how to address conflicts in a productive manner.

“When you avoid conflict, you’re actually putting the focus squarely on yourself,” Amy Jen Suwrites at the Harvard Business Review.

Avoiding conflict means your fear motivates you — whether it’s the fear of having an idea shot down or the fear of causing tension in the workplace. This fear ultimately makes you an ineffective employee because the needs of the business will always be second to your own personal discomfort.

Creating a Conflict Discussion Roadmap

Rhonda Scharf has also seen fear paralyze her co-workers. She knew one man who almost lost his marriage because he wouldn’t communicate his problems to his wife. He would write entire conversations in his head addressing the issue but couldn’t bring himself to open his mouth!

To abate these fears, Scharf created a four-step process that people can follow when they want to address conflict in a way that opens the door for healthy discussion:

  1. State the issue in one or two non-emotional, fact-based sentences.
  2. Make your first statement, and then pause to let the other person address it.
  3. Figure out your ideal solution before the confrontation.
  4. Focus on the real issues of the confrontation.

Team members who fear conflict can mentally write out what they want to say following this process to temper the messiness of confrontation. In many ways, voicing your problems is a learning process. The more you do it, the better you will get.

The Dangers of Avoiding Office Conflict

Business Analyst Office Conflict

Even the best conflict-resolution managers avoid difficult conversations sometimes. However, difficult issues need to be addressed for the health of the company.

James Kerr notes that when management refuses to acknowledge conflict, the results are often diminished teamwork, reduced productivity and unresolved conflicts that ultimately can compel your top employees to leave.

“Those that can will move on to greener pastures when their current work environment becomes unbearable,” he writes. This often leaves management with just the people who benefit from the status quo. Companies constantly fight to recruit top talent, but a passive management style that doesn’t stop conflict could leave you with the worst people, not the best.  

Conflict Without Leadership Can Cause Bullying

The Trade Union Congress reports that 29 percent of workers have been bullied at work. Nearly half of these respondents said it has affected their performance along with their mental health.

By failing to address conflict in a fair and timely manner, you could be contributing to a culture of bullying within your office. Even if the bullies don’t realize the effects they have on their co-workers, your bullied employees will certainly see that you’re not doing anything to address the problem.

Ignoring Conflict Won’t Make it Go Away

Failing to address conflict doesn’t mean it isn’t there; it just means the conflict is occurring somewhere outside of your control.

“Organizations in which managers try to keep a lid on differences — of opinion, personal style, and cultural preferences — are usually riven with the undercurrents of unproductive conflict,”Muthu Subramanian writes.

When leaders encourage teams to address differences instead of suppressing, both parties can come up with opportunities to overcome and even embrace challenges.

Bullying, turnover, lost employees and a toxic workplace; is all of that worth giving into the fear of addressing conflict?

By improving your conflict-resolution skills, you will be able to solve more isolated problems and create a more positive work environment for your team. Furthermore, you will grow as a manager and continue to be an asset within your company.

Article Source: bobtheba.com

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Conflict Management Styles: The Start of Effective Conflict Management

May 5th, 2017

Conflict is part of life. Conflict is any situation in which people have incompatible interests, goals, principles or feelings and experience.  In other words, conflict means that two people experience discomforting differences.

Despite our best efforts, we find ourselves in disagreements with other people in all aspects of our lives:  at work, in our relationships, in our volunteer activities.  How we respond to provocation can determine if conflict moves in a beneficial or a harmful direction.  The good news is that we can learn skills, strategies and processes to manage conflict.

The goal of  conflict management is to manage yourself and others so as to bring about the best possible resolution of a conflict situation in terms of the issue at hand, the relationship.  When handled effectively, conflict carries with it opportunity:

Better Relationships:
Conflict is a signal that changes might be necessary in the relationships or the situation so conflict management can build relationships. It also encourages listening and taking the perspective of the other person for greater rapport.

Better Outcomes:
Conflict stimulates problem-solving and open communication to arrive at better solutions.

Less Stress:
Conflict provides a means for expressing emotions which can ultimately clear the air and reduce tension.

Let us examine the first step in becoming an effective conflict manager:  knowing how to use the 5 conflict management styles and strategies.

Conflict Management Styles

The start of being an effective conflict manager is being aware of your style in conflict and the style of those that you deal with.  These styles were identified by two psychologists, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in the 1970’s to illustrate the options that we have in dealing with conflict.
There are 5 different styles for managing conflict.  These are tendencies and we may use any one of these styles at different times.  However, people tend to have one or two preferred or default waysof dealing with conflict.

1.    Avoid
A person who avoids conflict does not deal the issue at hand when it arises.  This means that neither his own concerns nor those of the other person are addressed. Avoiding might mean diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or withdrawing from a threatening situation.

2.    Accommodate
Someone who accommodates the other person in a conflict prefers to satisfy the concerns of the other person, thereby neglecting his own concerns.  Accommodation carries with it an element of self-sacrifice.  This mode might involve selfless generosity or charity or yielding to another’s point of view.

3.    Compromise
The individual who prefers to compromise wants to find an expedient, mutually acceptable solution. Compromising addresses an issue more directly than avoiding, but does not explore it in as much depth as collaborating. Compromising might mean splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground position.

4.    Collaborate
In collaboration, the individual prefers to work with the other person to find a solution that fully satisfies the concerns of both. This is the best way to achieve the win/win solution:  one where each party feels that he or she achieved his or her goals.  It involves exploring an issue to identify the underlying interests of the parties in order to arrive at an outcome that meets both sets of concerns. Collaborating might take the form of exploring a disagreement to learn from each other’s insights, or looking for a creative solution to an interpersonal problem.

5.    Compete
An individual who competes pursues his or her own interests without regard to the other person’s goals and seeking to impose his power in order to win his position. Competing might mean standing up for one’s rights, defending a position believed to be right, or simply trying to win.

Conflict Management Strategies

These styles translate into 5 different strategies for managing conflict which are based on 4 factors:

•    issues: the extent to which the conflict involves important priorities, principles or values are involved in the conflict;
•    relationship: the importance of maintaining a close, mutually supportive relationship with the other party;
•    relative power: the power balance between you and the other party;
•    available time:  how much time you have to resolve the issue.

By knowing when to use each strategy, you can begin to make choices about which is the most appropriate to the situation.

Let us take a closer look at when to use each strategy:

1.    Avoid

Avoiding is an appropriate strategy where there is a clear advantage to waiting to resolve the conflict.  When used as a choice, it helps to cool things down and reduce stress. Avoiding is appropriate when
•    the conflict is small and relationships are at stake
•    you are upset and need to time to cool off
•    there are more important issues to deal with
•    you have no power and you see no chance of getting your concerns met
•    you are too emotionally involved and others around you can solve the conflict more successfully.

However, if either the issue or the relationship between the parties is important, avoidance is a poor strategy because important decisions may be made by default and postponing resolution of the issue may make matters worse.

2.    Accommodate

Accommodate is a good strategy when you find yourself in conflict over a fairly unimportant issue and you would like to resolve the conflict without straining your relationship with the other party.  Someone who accommodates builds good will and can be perceived as reasonable. Collaborating is also an option, but it might not be worth the time.  The focus is on the relationship, as opposed to the outcome.
Accommodate is the right strategy when
•     an issue is not as important to you as it is to the other person
•    you realize you are wrong
•    the time is not right to resolve the issue and you would prefer to simply build credit for the future
•    harmony in the relationship is extremely important.

The downside is that your ideas do not get sufficient attention and may be neglected, causing you to feel resentful.  Moreover, you may lose credibility and influence if accommodation becomes a pattern.

3.    Compromise

When dealing with moderately important issues, compromising can often lead to quick solutions.  However, compromise does not completely satisfy either party, and compromise does not foster innovation the way that taking the time to collaborate can.  Compromise helps to get to solutions and is good for overcoming impasses. It works when:
•    people of relatively equal power are equally committed to goals
•    you can save time by reaching intermediate resolution of parts of complex issues
•    the goals are moderately important.

However, compromise can backfire if the parties overlook important principles and long-term goals for the sake of the details.  Moreover, it is not the best way to reach an optimal solution on important issues.  The parties also risk engaging in excessive “horse-trading” while losing sight of the big picture.

4.    Collaborate

Conflict management experts advocate collaboration as the best way to resolve a conflict over important issues.  The premise is that teamwork and cooperation help all parties to achieve their goals while also maintaining the relationships. The process of working through differences will lead to creative solutions that will satisfy both parties’ concerns.  Collaboration is the way to achieve the best outcome on important issues as well as build good relationships since it takes into account all of the parties’ underlying interests.
Collaboration works best when:
•     the parties trust each other
•    it is important for all sides to buy into the outcome
•    the people involved are willing to change their thinking as more information is found and new options are suggested
•    the parties need to work through animosity and hard feelings.

The downside is that the process requires a lot of time and energy.  If time is precious, compete or compromise might be a better solution.

5.    Compete

Compete is a useful strategy when the outcome is extremely important and an immediate decision needs to be taken.  It is efficient and effective when you need to take a stand. In that case, one must sometimes use power to win.  Compete is appropriate when
•    you know you are right
•    time is short and a quick decision is needed
•    you need to stand up for your rights.

However, when used too often, compete can escalate the conflict, breed resentment among others and damage relationships.

How to Use Conflict Management Strategies
The first step in managing your conflicts is to be aware of your default style.  Where has it worked for you?  Where did it let you down?  What were the consequences?

Once you know about the other styles and strategies, you can begin to apply them in the appropriate situation.  The good news is that this is a skill that you can practice and eventually master.

In addition, once you know the different styles, you can identify them in the people with whom you are in conflict.  This can help you to understand their perspective and frame the appropriate response.

By knowing the styles and how to use them effectively, you can begin to take charge of those uncomfortable conflict situations.

With these principles in mind, you are now ready for action. For more information, here is how  to prepare for a conflict meeting and conduct a conflict negotiation.

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© Astrid Baumgardner 2012

 

Astrid Baumgardner, JD, PCC is a professional life coach and lawyer, Coordinator of Career Strategies and Lecturer at the Yale School of Music and the founder and President of Astrid Baumgardner Coaching + Training, which is dedicated to helping musicians, lawyers and creative professionals take charge of their lives and experience authentic success.  In addition to her work at YSM and her individual coaching practice, Astrid presents workshops at leading conservatories and law firms on topics including Career Planning, Goal-Setting, Time Management, Dynamic Communication, Conflict Management and  Personal Branding and Networking.  She is the author of numerous articles on the various aspects of how to achieve and live authentic success and blogs on career development and personal development for musicians creative professionals at www.astridbaumgardner.com/blog.

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