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. Dont 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, its 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 youre 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, its 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. Dont confront
Confronting someone literally, ie, standing in front of them, can give an aggressive impression. Its 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. Dont 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 cant 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
Its uncomfortable being disagreed with, and some
people combat it by pretending they dont disagree at all. They are
adept at shifting their opinion to suit the person theyre talking
to. Its 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. Its acquiring skills in constructive communication,
mutual goal setting, genuinely considering alternatives, and going for
win-win. This often doesnt come easily, and formal training may
be the answer.
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