Establishing Conditions for Productive Conflict Management, Part 1: What is Your Approach to Conflict?

B. Kim Barnes

Originally published on LinkedIn, September 26, 2023

Conflict Management: Photo by B. Kim BarnesIn situations involving more than one person, some conflict is inevitable, whether expressed or not. In families, friendship groups, personal or professional partnerships, teams, and more complex organizations there are conflicting needs, vested interests, goals, and preferences. In some venues these conflicts are feared, suppressed, and avoided. In others, they are welcomed and can lead to innovation and positive change. As a leader, your attitude toward conflict will guide those who follow you to treat it as an opportunity to be explored or a disturbance to be ignored, if possible.

There are many approaches to dealing with conflict[1]. By culture, training, and experience, there are usually some that we prefer over others. Not all approaches are equally effective. Below is a list of some common options for dealing with conflict and their descriptions. Consider which approaches you typically use and the potential positive and/or negative consequences for each.

  • Confront: Let the other know directly how his or her action has affected you and/or what you plan to do about it.
  • Stuff: Let the issue pass for now but keep it in mind and act accordingly.
  • Dialogue: Seek a common understanding of the issues that led up to the conflict.
  • Retaliate: Plan and take actions that even the balance between you and the other party.
  • Problem-solve: Search for a logical solution that will resolve the conflict.
  • Triangle: Talk about the conflict with a third party without letting the other person know about it.
  • Avoid: Withdraw from the conflict situation or relationship without discussing the issue.
  • Negotiate: Initiate a process of fair exchange that will meet the needs of both parties to the conflict.
  • Let go: Let the issue pass, consciously and intentionally, without allowing it to affect the relationship.

More than likely, you use several of these, depending on the situation – but you are probably aware that some are more productive than others. These behaviors include confronting, creating a dialogue, problem-solving, negotiating, and (at times) letting go. Team and/or organization members will each have their own default approaches, productive or less so. In the next part, I will discuss norms and practices for productive conflict management.

For learning and implementing conflict management strategies in your organization, see Barnes & Conti’s program, Conflict: From Prevention to Resolution

[1] Some material adapted and used with permission from Conflict; From Prevention to Resolution, a copyrighted Barnes & Conti program.

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