[Strategy] Managing the Conflict You’re In

There are ways of managing conflict that involve using the weight of the other party’s assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue in order to create different conflict outcomes.

There are three things to understand in considering how to use the “throw” weight of another party in conflict:

Which quadrant are you in, and which quadrant are they in? Parties in opposite quadrants (i.e. accommodator/controller or collaborator/avoider) rarely interact productively in conflict scenarios, particularly when stress levels are high, mistrust is rampant and miscommunication is the coin of the realm. Knowing your own preferred conflict management style is critical to understanding what kind of assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue from past conflicts you are going to have to manage in yourself before beginning to manage the other party’s.Managing the Conflict Youre In

What is in their quadrant? Accommodators think of managing conflict as a process where being unassertive and cooperative is the way to manage others, and themselves. Competitors think of managing conflict through behaviors that tend to be viewed by others as assertive, but not cooperative.

A person who chooses competition is always going to be frustrated with an accommodator and eventually, a party who baseline is accommodation will either get stressed in the conflict because of do too much of the emotional work; or, they might decide to stop engaging in pointless self-sacrifice.

Avoiders (and many parties in conflicts in business and in life self-identify their behaviors as conflict avoiding) manage the process by being both unassertive and uncooperative with others. In the opposite quadrant are conflict collaborators, who view the process of conflict as one that increases the pie of value and options. Opposite from avoiders, collaborators are both assertive and cooperative.

A party that has collaboration as their baseline is going to be constantly frustrated by the lack of cooperation between themselves and a conflict avoider. And the avoider is going to go out of their way to avoid collaborating—or engaging with any of the other conflict management styles, until there arises an opportunity to work the conflict in their favor.

Then there are the “ditches,” areas between the conflict management baseline styles where interesting things happen. This is where the jiu-jitsu begins in earnest, because these are the spaces where parties can recognize elements of other behavioral styles and use these elements strategically.

This use will be to either maintain the status quo (the ditch between an accommodator and a collaborator or between an avoider and a competitor) or to challenge the way that the conflict process is happening (the ditch between the accommodator and the avoider or the ditch between the collaborator and the competitor) and try another way.

How deep into compromising do you want to go? For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by competition, compromise will feel like defeat. For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by avoiding, compromise will be scary and tempting. For a party with a baseline style defined by accommodation, compromise will seem like gaining the Holy Grail, but at the expense of losing something else. For a party with a baseline conflict management style defined by collaborating, compromise will also seem like gaining the Holy Grail, and not losing anything at all in the process.

Going deep into compromise is a strategy, not a tactic. And preparing the parties to “go deep” into an area they don’t understand (and view through their differing frames and lenses in differing ways) is a risky strategy at best. But getting them to cross the ditch toward each other—a ditch filled with assumptions, expectations, and emotional residue from past attempts and failures to cross the ditch—is the second hardest work of managing conflict.

[Strategy] KPIs for Your Conflict Management Skills Training

Effective conflict management should be a consistently pursued leadership competency in all organizations.

Often though, it’s not even pursued.

Or, even worse when it is pursued, it’s relegated to attending a one off workshop, or seminar over a weekend with little to no follow-up. Neither of these realities  lead to lasting changes in the ways that employees choose to react and respond to conflicts occuring in their organizational cultures.

This happens for many reasons.

And typically, the feedback that the conflict management expert receives during the workshop is “Well, all this seems like it would work. But it all seems so indefinable.” This piece of feedback reveals the challenge that many organizations have, when pulling people off the floor, off assignment, and away from work, to attend HR mandated diversity trainings and other offerings.

And those are offerings that are mandated to keep organizations out of regulatory trouble, out of litigation and open for business.

Conflict management trainings, conflict communication trainings and conflict resolution trainings are not mandated in many organizations, and thus are seen as “nice-to-haves,” by supervisors, managers and others.

Kind of like marketing.

The fact of the matter is, the impact of unresolved conflicts on turnover, productivity, decision making, retention and innovation efforts, touches internal stakeholders (i.e. employees) directly. And in a world where more and more product is produced by fewer and fewer people, human capital must be managed properly and effectively. And the outcomes of that management must be measured, tracked and analyzed more effectively.

There are three key ways to do this, and they should be established before sending off employees to another “nice-to-have” training:

Establish benchmarks and attainable goals—What do you want your employees to understand, appreciate and implement from the conflict management training you are sending them to?

Just wanting the “conflict” to “end” and for everybody to “get back to work” isn’t a benchmark of success in any meaningful sense of the word. Without definable, organizationally based benchmarks and goals, the chances that your organization will be in litigation—or in a mandated rather than voluntary training situation in the future–increase exponentially.

Implement outcomes from the training—Without implementation of practical skills, attained through conflict management training exercises and facilitation, the fact of the matter is that many employees will revert to what’s comfortable, what “feels” right and what is immediate.

They will do this for a number of reasons: lack of organizational support, a desire for the perceived security from predictable conflict outcomes, or just plain old fear. Active implementation (and support) of the results and learning  from conflict resolution, management and communication trainings, increases employee buy-in and productivity and decreases the measurable costs of conflict in increased litigation, increased health care costs and decreased productivity.

Enable supervisors and managers—Here’s a smaple scenario: Employee X goes to conflict resolution training because they can’t get along with Employee Y. They were told to go after their last performance review from Supervisor N. Supervisor N told them “This is your last chance, so we need to see some changes—or we’re going to have to implement some changes.”

Employee X, filled with dread, attends the two day training on Thursday, enjoys the training, feels good about the training all weekend, and goes back to work on Monday. Supervisor N later on Monday, casually asks Employee X “Well, how was it?”

And that’s the extent of the follow-up until the next performance review.

Thus, Employee X has no idea if they succeeded or failed, if they have any support in the organization to implement what was covered in the workshop, and has no idea if they are going to keep their job or not. And, Supervisor N, who didn’t attend the training or review the material with the trainer, has no knowledge to implement follow-up, no understanding of what was talked about during the training and no way to measure success or failure in the employee.

This is not an uncommon scenario.

The solution is to enable supervisors and managers to attend trainings, review materials and be  involved in the benchmarking and goal setting process for success with the employee, rather than acting as a bystander in the employee’s development.

The outcomes of conflict management training may seem undefinable, but that’s only if the organization chooses to allow them to remain so. This choice reflects cultural issues and cultural choices orgnaizations have become comfortable with over time. Shifting out of these comfort zones requires everyone to be on board, from the lowest entry-level employee, all the way to the executives in the suites.

It is often believed that training in conflict is a “soft skill” and thus relegated to the back burner in many organizations. But the hard metrics of success and development in lowering employee turnover, increasing employee retention, encouraging employee productivity and decision making and driving innovation, yield dividends that can be seen all over the bottom line.

Download the new FREE eBook courtesy of Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT), Assumptions and Expectations by clicking the link here

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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