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Ten Tips for Conflict Management

1. Make it easy to raise issues

Make it easy for people to find a route to voicing their views. You could make one person (formally or informally) a first point of call when people feel uncomfortable about something. Make it easy for them to approach the matter, while it is still a matter of concern. Don’t wait for it to be a ball of fire.

2. Ask yourself whether this particular conflict is bad

Conflict can be a good thing. It can get people thinking, and energise them into finding a solution. It can prevent simmering undercurrents by bringing feelings into the open, where they can be addressed. It can bring sudden realisations about how things could change. Handled well, it’s an energiser and stimulant.

3. Label your emotions

Conflict can rapidly turn into emotional attacks. This often means that anger is directed against a person, not the problem. That person then retaliates, and it soon gets out of hand. You can avoid this by thinking first about the emotion you’re feeling, instead of about the person you see as responsible. Deal with the anger, disappointment, fear, etc, before you start thinking about the people involved.

4. Look for signs that the conflict is damaging

If people are making unpleasant remarks about each other, or there seems to be a scapegoat, relationships need improving. If people are hiding information, it’s part of failing communication. If some people strive to keep apart, they cannot make a joint contribution. It might be necessary to call in mediators. It is rarely a good idea to evict anyone. The conflict may be endemic, rather than caused by one person.

5. Don’t confront

Confronting someone literally, ie, standing in front of them, can give an aggressive impression. It’s better to sit next to each other, at an angle of around 45 degrees, so you can see each other, but are not front to front. Another way is to go for a walk, so you are beside each other, and walking can use up energy that might otherwise be directed into aggression.

6. Stick to the issues

How long can you argue for without getting to the point? If it seems to be going on for a long time, check that you are addressing issues, not going round in circles, or scoring points with irrelevancies. It should be a discussion about problems, not about people.

7. Be specific

Make it clear what you actually want. Don’t keep quiet to avoid embarrassment, or go on the attack, making sarcastic remarks that leave the other person wondering what you actually mean. State what you see as the best outcome, and listen as well.

8. Create a pleasant environment

Keep it formal, but make a room available where disputants can sit comfortably, not surrounded by boxes or distracted by background noise. Serve refreshments. Let the only discomfort be dealing with the dispute.

9. Get decisions into effect quickly

Once a solution has been agreed, get it implemented. If it can’t happen immediately, draw up a timetable which is rapid, but feasible, and make sure it happens.

10. Provide training in how to deal with conflict in a productive way

It’s uncomfortable being disagreed with, and some people combat it by pretending they don’t disagree at all. They are adept at shifting their opinion to suit the person they’re talking to. It’s a passive form of defence. Others use an aggressive form of defence, going for mockery and insults. The healthy way is neither of these, nor in-between. It’s acquiring skills in constructive communication, mutual goal setting, genuinely considering alternatives, and going for win-win. This often doesn’t come easily, and formal training may be the answer.

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