Taking Control of Workplace Conflict

Posted by HRDQ on 02/19/2018 to Conflict

Workplace conflict can be both good and bad

Workplace productivity, employee engagement, and job satisfaction probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think about conflict. Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, workplace conflict has been widely recognized as the cause of many struggles, from stress and inefficiency to poor decision-making and employee turnover. Workplace conflict can be an issue but there are ways to help mitigate it.
Just look these eye-opening statistics:
  • Almost 85% of employees experience conflict at work.
  • Managers spend as much as 40% of their time dealing with conflict.
  • Employees exhaust approximately three hours each week in conflict situations.
To complicate things further: for all the damage inflicted by excessive conflict, the absence of conflict can breed a culture of mistrust and complacency. It happens everywhere. According to the management team at Intel, “The only thing worse than too much conflict is no conflict at all.”Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch coined the term “superficial congeniality,” in which everything was “pleasant on the surface, with distrust and savagery roiling beneath.”
Clearly, conflict has been given a bum rap. But conflict itself is not the problem. In fact, it can be the secret to a competitive advantage when it’s harnessed and well-managed. And that starts with education. Rather than attempting to eliminate conflict, equip people with awareness, knowledge, and an effective strategy. That is, awareness of how individuals typically react in conflict situations, knowledge of the consequences that result from those reactions, and finally, the ability to select the most effective strategy for responding to conflict in a productive manner.
Model Conflict
Theories of conflict have shifted and evolved since Classical Greece. Today, the grid first introduced by psychologists Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in 1964 continues to be the predominant conflict model. A matrix that combines an individual’s degree of concern for work output with his or her degree of concern for people generates five different conflict strategies: Integrating, Compromising, Competing, Smoothing, and Avoiding.
These are the grid behaviors broken down into specific elements:
  • Initiative - Taking action and driving change
  • Inquiry - Questioning and ensuring understanding
  • Advocacy - Expressing one's or someone else's convictions
  • Decision making - Evaluating choices and consequences
  • Conflict resolution - Confronting and resolving disagreements
  • Resilience - Coming back from setbacks and failures
  • Critique - Delivering objective and constructive feedback
As you may have guessed, "Integrating" is the ideal strategy for successfully managing conflict on a consistent basis. But even though its problem-solving focus yields positive results, there are times when it’s not possible to invest the energy and collaboration it requires. That’s why it’s important to understand the situation, evaluate the options, and then choose the best-suited conflict strategy.
When to Use Each Strategy

When Integrating is Appropriate: Integrating is appropriate in most conflict situations. It is particularly effective when parties to the conflict must work together in the future. This strategy is useful when the conflict is complex and involves multiple layers. When the Integrating strategy is used for resolving a conflict, it sets the tone for future issues to be handled with a similar, problem-solving focus.

When Compromising is Appropriate: Compromising may be effective when people are having difficulty moving forward. If each side gains a little bit, it may be enough to keep the parties involved in the conflict resolution. Compromise can bring some satisfaction to each party in the meantime, but in the long run only integrating will actually achieve the optimal results.

When Competing is Appropriate: Competing is rarely a productive strategy in the long term. But if there is no long-term relationship involved and if your goals demand immediate attention, then competing may be useful. There are situations in which one party must win and another lose, but even in those situations, where possible, use of the integrating strategy would be more productive than using the competing strategy.

When Avoiding Is Appropriate: Some conflict situations can reasonably be expected to work themselves out over time. In such cases it may be best to leave the situation alone. There are other conflicts that are so trivial that it is not worth giving them attention. Sometimes by avoiding a conflict you can prevent escalation to a worse situation. There are also some conflicts that are unresolvable. For example, if two people have conflict stemming from fundamentally different personal values, they will have great difficulty resolving that conflict no matter what.

Additional Help
Do you need more help in mitigating workplace conflict? HRDQ's  'Conflict Strategies Inventory" is a combination self-assessment and workbook that improves a person's ability to successfully handle conflict scenarios in the workplace. Based on more than 35 years of research, this training tool explores five different strategies:
  • Integrating
  • Compromising
  • Competing,
  • Smoothing
  • Avoiding
'Conflict Strategies Inventory' accurately identifies one's typical reaction to conflict, examines the potential outcomes associated with each strategy, encourages the use of more effective tactics, and provides skill practice in resolving day-to-day issues. These workplace scenarios for managers offer helpful tips for dealing with conflict in the workplace, no matter what the conflict is related to. To learn more, click here: 
 Conflict Strategies Inventory Starter Kit