Conflict Management Techniques: Methods for Managing Conflict in a Team and at Work

Ever left a meeting feeling like you swallowed a mouthful of ashes? You walk in brimming with ideas, ready to collaborate, but then…wham! A disagreement erupts, tempers flare, and suddenly the air is thick with tension. This, my friends, is conflict – that ever-present visitor in the workplace, as common as overflowing inboxes and lukewarm coffee. It can manifest as raised voices, frustrated body language, and yes, even quiet anger.

A recent study by The Myers-Briggs Company, a well-respected leadership development organisation, revealed that 72% of executives encounter conflict at least weekly.

Decoding Conflict Management

Conflict management is the art of navigating disagreements constructively. When people disagree, it’s not about winning or losing. Instead, it’s about identifying the issue’s root and then working together to find the real problem causing the disagreement.

Handling conflicts in the same way helps in building trust within the organization. Effective conflict management can resolve issues while maintaining and even strengthening the relationship among team members. By focusing on the underlying interests of all parties, conflicts can be addressed more effectively and constructively.

There can be disagreements when working together in completing tasks together as a team because of different perspectives or because of personality differences at the workplace. We don’t have to avoid these conflicts. The key thing is to understand why the disagreement is happening so we can deal with it in the best way possible. By talking things out openly and honestly and fostering open communication, we can understand each other’s concerns and come up with solutions that address everyone’s concerns. This is how we turn conflict into progress through conflict management. 

To master conflict management, let’s delve into the five Conflict Management Styles of the Thomas Kilmann Model. These styles will equip us with specific techniques to navigate any disagreement productively.

Understanding Your Team’s Conflict Styles

Before diving into specific techniques to handle conflict, let’s explore the five Conflict Management Styles outlined in the Thomas Kilmann Model.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model, developed by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in the 1970s, illuminates how people typically handle disagreements. Their research revealed five key conflict resolution styles, which can be understood through two main lenses: assertiveness and cooperation.

Thomas Kilmann Model

Assertiveness refers to the extent to which you prioritise your needs and concerns in a conflict. Cooperation reflects how much you consider the other person’s needs and goals. The Thomas-Kilmann Model helps us see how these two dimensions combine to create the five main conflict resolution approaches. 

Let’s delve deeper into these specific styles:

1. Competing

Competing is a conflict resolution style where you directly advocate for your needs and goals. It’s helpful in urgent situations where there’s no time for compromise and a clear decision must be made. While competing can feel aggressive, it’s a valuable tool when used strategically. It ensures your voice is heard and your critical needs are addressed, particularly in urgent situations where immediate action is necessary. The competing style thrives in these high-pressure moments, prioritising a quick resolution over compromise to achieve the best outcome for the most critical needs.

Competing

Here’s how to effectively compete:

Be Clear and Direct- Clear and direct communication is key in conflict resolution. Instead of hinting or making vague accusations, be upfront about what you need. Use “I” statements to take ownership of your needs and avoid putting the other person on the defensive.State your needs and goals explicitly. For example, instead of saying “You’re always late!” which sounds like blame, try “I need this report by tomorrow” – this focuses on the specific issue and helps move towards a solution.

Focus on the Issue, Not the Person- Effective conflict resolution means keeping the focus on the problem, not the person. This involves targeting the specific issue that’s causing friction, rather than resorting to personal attacks. Don’t get caught up in blaming or name-calling. Instead, focus on what actually happened (the facts) and keep your cool. This way, you can work together on the real issue and find a solution that works for everyone. By staying objective and addressing the core problem, you can work towards a solution that benefits everyone.

Be Willing to Negotiate (Within Reason): While the competing style prioritises your goals, being willing to negotiate shows you’re reasonable. This doesn’t mean giving up everything, but being open to small adjustments as long as your main needs are still met. This flexibility demonstrates good faith and increases the chances of reaching a solution that works for everyone.

Remember: While competing can be effective in urgent situations, it shouldn’t be your go-to method, especially when dealing with people you’ll interact with again. That’s because constantly pushing your agenda can damage relationships and create resentment. Instead, focus on finding solutions where everyone benefits (win-win). This fosters collaboration, builds trust, and strengthens your long-term working relationships.

Some additional points to consider:

  • Know your BATNA: Your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Knowing what you’ll do if negotiations fail strengthens your position.

  • Be respectful: Even in competition, maintain professionalism and respect for the other party.

  • Be mindful of the situation: Not all situations require a direct approach. Use competing judiciously. 

2. Accommodating

Accommodating  is a conflict resolution style which prioritises peace over your own needs. You might readily agree with the other side to avoid conflict, which can feel good in the moment as it fosters harmony in the short term. However, this can be risky in the long run. By constantly giving in, your needs never get addressed, and resentment can build. This can lead to bigger problems down the line. It’s better to find solutions that work for everyone (win-win) whenever possible.

Accommodating

Here’s how to navigate using this style:

Emphasise Agreement: When using the accommodating style, emphasise finding common ground. Look for areas where you and the other person agree, even if it’s just a small aspect. Use phrases like “I see your point” or “That’s a good idea” to acknowledge their perspective and build rapport. This creates a more positive atmosphere and opens the door for collaboration, even if you ultimately choose to defer on the bigger issue.

Be Willing to Sacrifice (Within Limits): Accommodating doesn’t mean being a doormat. While it’s okay to concede on some points to maintain peace, remember your own needs are important too. Set boundaries so you’re not constantly sacrificing everything. This might involve saying “yes” to a small request but explaining you can’t always bend over backwards. Finding a balance between compromise and self-care is key.

Use De-escalating Language: When using the accommodating style, prioritise calming the situation. Opt for de-escalating language like “Let’s work together on this” or “I understand your frustration” to show empathy and open communication. Avoid accusatory language like “you always” or raising your voice, as this can make the other person feel attacked and worsen the conflict.

Remember: While accommodation fosters a peaceful environment, overusing it can lead to resentment and unsatisfied needs.

Some additional points to consider:

  • Be assertive when needed: If your core needs are constantly disregarded, learn to express them assertively.

  • Watch for manipulation: Some people might exploit your accommodating nature. Be mindful of this.

  • Long-term solutions: While accommodation works for short-term peace, it rarely solves the root cause of conflict. Seek win-win solutions whenever possible.

3. Avoiding

Avoiding conflict might seem like an easy way to keep the peace in the moment. You simply withdraw from the situation altogether, hoping it’ll disappear. But this short-term solution comes at a cost. This might seem appealing for short-term peace, but it delays resolution and can breed resentment in the long run. By avoiding the conflict, you also miss the opportunity to find a solution that works for everyone. The key is to be mindful of when to avoid trivial matters and when to address conflicts directly. While it can be a valuable tool in some situations, avoiding shouldn’t become your default response.

Avoiding

Here’s a breakdown of avoiding and how to navigate it effectively:

Ignoring or Withdrawing: When using the avoiding style, you essentially disengage from the conflict altogether. This might involve tactics like changing the subject to something lighter, leaving the room to cool down, or simply postponing the discussion indefinitely. While this can offer a temporary reprieve from tension, it doesn’t address the root cause of the conflict.

Hope for the Best (But Rarely Gets It): Avoiding focuses on hoping the problem vanishes. You might simply choose not to engage, like changing the subject or leaving the room. Unfortunately, this rarely works. Unresolved issues tend to stay under the surface, and can erupt again later, often with more intensity.

Short-Term Peace (But Long-Term Strain): Avoiding conflict might bring a brief relief in tension and create a temporary sense of peace. However, the real issue remains unaddressed, potentially building resentment over time. This can lead to more strained relationships.

Here are some situations where avoiding might be a temporary solution, but a different approach is ultimately needed:

  • Cooling Down: If tempers are high, a short break can allow everyone to calm down before productive communication.

  • Gathering Information: If you need more information to understand the situation better, a temporary delay might be helpful.

  • Trivial Matters: For minor issues that won’t have lasting consequences, avoiding them might be acceptable.

4. Compromising

Compromising is a conflict resolution style where both parties agree to meet halfway. It involves give-and-take to reach a solution that partially satisfies everyone’s needs. Here’s a closer look at compromising:

Compromising

The Art of Give-and-Take: Compromising emphasises the art of give-and-take. Both parties openly discuss their needs and are willing to concede on certain points to reach a mutually agreeable solution. Negotiation and flexibility are crucial here. This doesn’t mean everyone gets exactly what they want, but rather that both sides are willing to bend a little to find common ground and achieve a solution that partially satisfies everyone’s needs.

Finding “Good Enough” Solutions: Here, the focus isn’t on achieving a perfect outcome for everyone, but rather on reaching an agreement that everyone can at least accept, even if it’s not their ideal scenario. This can be a valuable approach when time constraints press for a decision, or when complete agreement on a complex issue seems out of reach. By compromising, both sides can walk away with a solution that partially addresses their needs and allows progress to move forward. 

Quick Resolutions (But Not Always Lasting): While this can bring matters to a close quickly and keep things moving, it doesn’t always address the root cause of the conflict. These underlying issues can linger and resurface down the line, potentially sparking renewed disagreements. So, compromising offers a fast resolution, but it may not be the most sustainable approach for long-term conflict management.

Here are some situations where compromising shines:

  • Limited Time: When a quick resolution is needed, at that moment compromising can be an efficient way to move forward.

  • Relationships Matter: In situations where preserving relationships is paramount, compromise can foster cooperation by addressing underlying concerns and finding a mutually beneficial solution.

  • Trivial Matters: For minor disagreements, compromising can be a way to avoid wasting time and energy on extended arguments.

5. Collaborating

Collaboration is the crown jewel of conflict resolution styles. It involves working together to find a solution that fully addresses everyone’s needs and creates a win-win situation. While it requires more time and effort compared to other styles, it often leads to the most sustainable and satisfying outcomes. Through collaboration, all parties feel heard and respected, fostering stronger relationships and a more positive work environment in the long run.

Collaborating

Here’s how collaboration works:

Open and Honest Communication: Collaboration hinges on open and honest communication. This means sharing your perspective, feelings, and underlying concerns directly, while also approaching the other side’s viewpoint with an open mind. Active listening is key here – truly pay attention to what the other person is saying and try to understand their experience. By fostering empathy and mutual understanding, collaboration creates a space where a win-win solution can be reached.

Creative Problem-Solving: Collaboration thrives on creative problem-solving. Both parties brainstorm a wide range of solutions, considering unconventional approaches. Before deciding, all options are considered and their potential consequences are explored before settling on a course of action to ensure everyone’s needs are addressed effectively.

Building Consensus: Collaboration isn’t about forcing a single answer. Instead, it’s about working together through discussion and negotiation to find common ground through discussion and negotiation to aim for a solution everyone can support.

Here are some additional tips for success:

  • Set Ground Rules: Establish clear communication guidelines that promote respect and active listening.

  • Neutral Third-Party: If communication is strained, consider involving a neutral mediator to facilitate the discussion differently .

  • Focus on the Problem, Not the Person: Attack the issue, not the other party. Maintain a problem-solving mindset.

No single style is inherently a good or bad thing.  The most effective approach depends on the specific situation and the personalities involved.

How Will You Manage Conflict at Work in 2024? 

An organisation is an amalgamation of different individuals who come together to work for a common organisational objective. To achieve its objectives and goals, an organisation must adopt Conflict management techniques.

The existence of conflicts within a diverse organisation is not a sign of weakness but a natural consequence of bringing together a multitude of backgrounds and viewpoints. However, left unchecked, these conflicts can hinder productivity and derail progress. The “5 C’s of Conflict Management” offer a robust set of tools to address these challenges constructively.

This framework empowers you to approach conflict with clarity, control, compromise, collaboration, and creativity:

How Will You Manage Conflict at Work
  • Clarity

The foundation of effective conflict resolution is clear communication. Practise active listening, genuinely focusing on understanding the other person’s perspective. Pay close attention to non-verbal cues like body language and tone of voice, as they can reveal emotions that may not be spoken. 

Tip:  During a heated discussion, paraphrase what you’ve heard to confirm understanding and avoid misunderstandings. For example, “So I’m hearing you’re concerned about meeting the deadline with the current workload. Is that right?”

  • Control

 Expect emotional responses during conflicts, but stay calm by taking deep breaths and acknowledging your feelings. Don’t let them dictate your actions and cause you to lose control.

Tip: List how you feel and practise short meditation before entering a potentially volatile discussion.

  • Compromise

While not always the ideal solution, compromise can be a valuable tool. Identify areas of agreement and explore solutions that address everyone’s core needs to some extent. Be flexible and willing to negotiate, but don’t compromise on core values or principles. Remember, a good compromise leaves everyone feeling heard and respected.

Tip: Use brainstorming techniques to generate and consider a variety of potential solutions which will help you identify potential areas of common ground and make compromises that are fair to both sides. 

  • Collaboration

The most sustainable approach to conflict resolution lies in collaboration. Here’s how to foster a collaborative environment. Recognize and utilise the unique skills and perspectives of each team member, Encourage participation from everyone and build upon each other’s ideas.

Tip:  Use visual aids like whiteboards or mind maps to capture ideas collaboratively during brainstorming sessions. Shift the conversation from “me vs. you” to finding a solution that benefits everyone on the team.

  • Creativity

Don’t be afraid to question traditional approaches or ingrained beliefs. Maybe the “tried and true” method isn’t the only option. Conflict can spark innovation. Be willing to test different solutions and learn from successes and failures.

Tip:  Schedule regular brainstorming sessions to generate creative solutions to ongoing conflicts or potential roadblocks.

Benefits of Conflict Management Techniques

After learning about the strategies, let’s understand the benefits your organisation will reap.

Benefits Of Conflict Management Techniques

1. Healthy Relationships: Adopting conflict management methods improves relationships among employees. Conflict management techniques equip employees with skills for productive communication and navigating disagreements respectfully. This fosters a more positive work environment where colleagues feel comfortable working together, leading to smoother collaboration and teamwork., resulting in timely task completion.

2. Improved Productivity: Timely managing workplace conflicts makes employees feel valued and develops a sense of belongingness. When employees feel valued and respected through fair conflict resolution processes, they tend to be more engaged and motivated in their work.

3. De-Stress Employees: When conflicts are managed collaboratively, the stress level among the team members reduces, creating a healthy and inspiring workplace. By fostering a more positive and predictable work environment, conflict management techniques contribute to a healthier and happier workforce.

4. Better Decisions: When employees know that their manager or HR knows how to manage conflict in a team, they put themselves out there freely. Openness and unbiasedness welcomes different perspectives and opinions, which help in making better decisions.

5. Inspiring Culture: In today’s times, high weightage is given to the organisation culture when deciding whether to join an organisation or not. An organisation that keeps upgrading its conflict management process has a healthy and positive culture. 

Conclusion

In today’s dynamic business environment, successful leaders are defined by their ability to respond effectively to conflict. Mastering essential techniques and tips for dealing with disagreements isn’t just about keeping the peace; it’s about transforming those challenges into opportunities. By fostering open communication and taking responsibility for facilitating solutions, leaders can use conflict as a catalyst for innovation. This, in turn, builds stronger teams and ultimately propels them towards achieving peak performance.

Twinkle Singh

Twinkle is a seasoned professional with a rich background in training and coaching. She excels in facilitating leadership development programs and contributes significantly to content creation and design. Passionate about empowering individuals through essential life skills, Twinkle is dedicated to fostering growth and success with her optimistic and unwavering commitment to excellence.

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