Conflict management. We’ve heard the term and know it’s important at the workplace and in our personal lives. But what is it and how does it work? Before looking at managing conflict, it’s helpful to look at conflict itself. What comes to mind when you hear the word? A battle in a war, a strong disagreement between a parent and teenager, or the heartbreaking discord of a troubled relationship? There are different definitions, but all with one thing in common: a struggle.
There are all kinds of struggles. They can be over land, wealth or control; or they can result from a person’s need to win, be right or prevail and have his or her own way. A struggle is most often the need to get something, and when people come together in relationships, families or at workplaces, struggles that ultimately end in conflicts can result.
Some people like to make their point, be heard or settle things — and they don’t mind conflict. Others prefer to give in and agree rather than cause trouble; they avoid conflict at all costs. Most of us know both types, but regardless of who is involved in a particular conflict, what it’s about — whether it’s a big or small issue, important or unimportant — it must be dealt with. That’s where the management part comes in.
Conflict can’t be ignored, and conflict management calls for recognizing and dealing with conflict in smart, organized, fair, efficient and even calm, quiet ways. Conflict managers understand conflict is not always something negative and that it can be a positive, good thing that leads to better personal and professional relationships. They know it must be done correctly and, when mismanaged, discord can increase and greater damage can be done. Work environments can become more toxic and the many problems, tensions and stressors involved can smolder and ignite at the most inopportune times.
Sometimes conflict managers are company leaders, human resources professionals or conflict resolution specialists who will observe, interview, listen to the parties involved and work with them on reaching consensus and agreement.
Understanding the following conflict management principles can help us keep our personal and professional relationships healthy and strong.
• It’s not always bad to have conflict. See it as a way to change, grow and improve.
• There’s change as well as challenge in conflict. View it as something to learn from.
• No one can be right all the time. Make room for the thoughts and opinions of others.
• A struggle is a simmering conflict. Don’t let things heat up, boil, spill over and burn.
• Intervention and dialogue lead to resolution. Never refuse to talk about a conflict.
• Group work is vital to conflict management. Involve everyone in the process early.
Finally, our mothers taught us some basic rules about conflict that, although basic, are still good guidelines for managing and even avoiding conflict. Remember these words of advice:
• “You have to learn the game and follow the rules — and don’t be a know-it-all.”
• “You have two ears and only one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak.”
• “You won’t always be the winner, but never take your toys and go home angry!”