Conflicts are a part of life and they happen frequently. It takes creative management skills to handle conflict well.
Most of us are happy when everything is going along smoothly, and people are respectful of one another. When conflict occurs, all of this can change very quickly. We can feel anxious, angry or threatened, and what seemed like a good thing can very quickly turn sour.
Conflict can be constructive or destructive. How we react to it depends on our past experiences with parents, peers, bosses and co-workers. Many have learned to dread conflict because their memory reminds them that in conflict they lose. For most people conflict is about winning and losing, a process where ultimately everybody loses. But conflict can also be about winning!
Disagreements can be constructive when both parties go deep into the issues, using creative management skills to gain new awareness and find new solutions. Constructive conflict builds stronger relationships and trust. It takes effective management skills to make this happen.
When conflict arises, it is important to acknowledge that it exists. Our bodies frequently send out the warning signal. We get tense, our hearts start pounding, our faces become drawn, and we sometimes even break out into a cold sweat. Our speech may become awkward while our thoughts get frozen. Some want to fight while others want to flee.
Effective managers recognize when conflict is occurring in themselves and in others; they employ their management skills to facilitate a harmonious solution for all concerned.
Communication is the key. There are three steps that help us to manage this process of handling our emotions in a way that promotes a healthy outcome.
- Put your needs aside momentarily: When two people are in a potential conflict, nothing will usually get accomplished unless one person concedes to ‘let the other go first’. The manager is the one who understands the relationship. Lead through your conflict by putting your own needs aside for a moment and letting the other person know that they have your full attention in order for them to be heard. Know that you will get your turn soon!
- Demonstrate empathy: Try to put yourself in the shoes of others and get a sense of what it would be like to experience what that person is feeling. Set your feelings aside momentarily and listen to their side of the story. Steven Covey reminds us first to ‘seek to understand’. When someone really feels heard, their need to hold rigidly to their position is replaced with openness to new possibilities.
- Disclose how the situation affects you without blaming: This invites others to eventually return the favor and listen to you as well. To disclose without blame is all about expressing how the situation affects us. We share only our experience rather than evaluating the behavior of the other. Using a tone of voice that is non-judgmental and using open body language is key for an effective manager.
This process to resolve and handle conflicts can have great results when people care enough about each other and their relationships to find a new solution to a problem. Remind yourself to communicate effectively, stay committed and your creative management skills will get you there.