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Conflict Competence in the Workplace

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Conflict in work situations is inevitable.  When you can regulate your emotions and respond instead of reacting to certain situations, your capacity to manage conflicts in the workplace will be more effective.  It requires hard work and good practice for one to gain the necessary skills to improve conflict competence.  Below are some tips for understanding conflict: 

  • The first thing to learn about conflict is that is a thinking function.  What I mean by this is that this function involves learning different conflict dynamics—recognizing what is conflict and how to deal with it effectively, understanding what passive aggressive behavior is, what is constructive behavior, and how you communicate with others.  
  • Remember that some people are uncomfortable with emotions, and therefore some people tend to ignore conflict.  So, it is important to work on how you control your emotions. 
  • When you communicate with others, especially on sensitive issues or on issues that you may not agree with, it is important that you develop techniques to deal with strong or negative emotional feedback and gain the ability to regain your composure. 
  • Constructive behaviors include listening rather than talking or talking over.  By listening, you may understand the other person’s point of view better.   
  • Avoid using destructive behaviors such as being passive aggressive or by reacting in heats of anger.  This will certainly solve nothing. 
  • Sometimes it is necessary for one person to facilitate a discussion between two people who are not able to resolve an issue.  Consider this as an option if you find that you are not reacting well or getting along with the person you are communicating with.   
  • Conflict has been known to cause stress in the workplace which can lead to physical and psychological ailments.  So, it is important to gain a foothold on how to deal with it effectively.  Studies have shown that if there is too much conflict in the workplace, employees tend to leave their jobs or are absence from work much more.  Also, if conflict is prevalent in the workplace, people will focus more on that that instead of doing their work.  Learning more about conflict competence can help people learn and be honest about their differences.  Once this happens, people may be better equipped to work through their problems and communicate more openly so that there could be a possibility of improved relationships. Not all stress is eliminated but learning conflict competence will give someone the ability to manage their communications and behaviors in a more positive light. 
  • There are two instincts that may happen to us when we deal with conflict.  It is called “flight” or “fight.”  People will either flee from what they perceive to be a threat, or they may respond in a forceful manner.  These approaches don’t really work very well.  And remember that avoiding conflict does not make the problem go away.  It is important to work through it.   
  • Conflict typically involves anger and blame.  And this usually is a negative way of dealing with conflict, so another type of conflict is called “task” conflict.  This type of conflict involves people working together to solve their problems and differences.  People need to become aware of their attitudes when dealing with conflict.  Once we know that conflict is going to happen no matter what, we can begin to effectively problem-solve.  Not all conflict is bad or negative.  We live in world where everybody sees things differently so naturally there may be conflict and how we conduct ourselves.  
  • A good tactic to use when dealing with conflict is called “attentional deployment.”  This motivates someone to think about something different.  It distracts them from escalating an intense emotion and reduces the intensity of the painful emotional experience. 
  • You can also employ another tactic called “reappraisal,” which means is there another way of looking at this situation that is not so negative.   
  • So, going back to emotions, this is the key in managing conflict.   Many times, people find themselves in a negative or scary situation, and their emotions can propel them to use destructive behaviors.  This is what we don’t want.  When someone finds themselves in this predicament, it is usually best to cool down and gain your composure.  When you find yourself in this type of situation, do the following things: 
    • Develop an emergency exit-find a place you can go to where you can calm yourself down; sometimes delaying a problem is smart so that you have more time to think about it.   
    • Set the stage-tell the person up front that you are going to be delivering bad news and that it really needs to be discussed. 
    • If someone corrects you and they are correct, thank them for it and move on with the rest of the conversation.  This will show them that you disagree, but I can respect you when you are right too. 
    • When delivering bad news, it may be a good idea to sit on the same side of the table. This may open the discussion for free-flowing communication. 
    • If you are responsible for something that went wrong with something, acknowledge that you were responsible for the mistake and apologize. 
    • Don’t critique the behaviors of others, this will just create more tension.   
    • Consider taking assessments that would help you understand how you would respond to certain situations.  When you see your results, this may help you modify your behavior.   
    • Be aware of what may trigger your emotions.  If you do this, you will not get caught off guard when you are in a heated discussion with someone.  
    • Remember, there is nothing wrong with expressing your concerns or calling someone out on their behavior.  The main thing is not to let yourself get irritated to the point of being destructive and raising your voice to them.   
    • It is okay to have emotions such as anger or fear, but the key to be able to manage them so you can balance yourself in the conflict. 
  • Even though it is in our best interest to remain calm, emotions can overwhelm us, we are only human after all.  If you feel overwhelmed, it is important for you stay as centered as you can.  This is a good time to just cool down, as I mentioned earlier, and give yourself some space from the situation that is causing you to stress.  Perhaps go get a coffee, do a one-on-one talk with another co-worker.  When you take this time, make it very clear that you do intend to come back to finish the conversation. 
  • Once all parties have been heard, the logical thing to do next would be to come up with solutions that can work for everyone.  Once everyone understands each other, you can now develop answers that will address your different needs.  You may still not agree with them, but the key is to still try understanding where they are coming from.   
  • Some people may notice that some people may have a hard time expressing how they feel at times.  This kind of behavior may also lead to passive-aggressive behavior.  So, it is important to be on the look out for this kind of behavior so that it can be addressed quickly.    

Some helpful websites: 

Managing Conflict 

How to Manage Conflict: Six Essentials