Join Britt Andreatta for an in-depth discussion in this video Managing conflict, part of Leading with Emotional Intelligence.
How do you feel about conflict? It's interesting, but a lot of people think that conflict is a bad thing, something to be avoided or de-escalated as quickly as possible. But conflict is actually a natural byproduct of both group development, and diversity. Much of conflict is actually healthy, and contributes to the growth of the individual and organization. The first thing to know about conflict is your own relationship to it, because this shapes how you manage conflict. We all have personal histories with conflicts that grow out of our family experiences.
How you feel about conflict is largely a reflection of how conflict was handled in your home. If you grew up in a home where conflict was done respectfully, and was balanced with lots of love and laughter, then you're probably much more comfortable with it. You're likely to give people time and space to work things out. However, if there was a lot of yelling, tension or even violence, you're probably very sensitive to conflict, and maybe even feel stressed or nervous when it starts. Your reaction will most likely be to avoid or de-escalate conflict as quickly as possible, which might short-change people's ability to work through it.
From the emotional intelligence perspective, the goal is to know the difference between healthy conflict and toxic conflict that can do harm. You can identify toxic conflict by the following. People openly use insulting or demeaning words and actions like name calling, shaming, and sneering. Or people sabotage or undermine the efforts of another, usually behind their back. Both of these methods are destructive. They not only kill trust, but they also undermine the efforts and goals of the group and organization.
You should have a zero-tolerance policy for these kinds of conflict behaviors. However, toxic conflict is actually rare, and only shows up when people cannot resolve their differences through more open or healthy means. To this end, you want to create an environment where healthy conflict can be embraced. Design regular opportunities where people can have open discussions about issues. Encourage debate by asking for alternative ideas and solutions. Make the devil's advocate a regular member of your meetings by intentionally exploring other side of issues.
Also, make it okay to disagree. Role model how to have healthy debate, and what respectful disagreement looks like. We don't see many examples of this in our society, and you'd be surprised how effective a little modeling can be. It can also be helpful to lead the group in a shared exploration of conflict. One of my favorite strategies is to have the group take the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Instrument, or TKI. This instrument scores people on their use of the five different styles of conflict management, ranking them from their most used or preferred style, to their least.
Each style has pros and cons, and the discussion can be very valuable in helping people approach conflict more effectively. The five styles of conflict are: avoiding, where you avoid conflict or withdraw from it. Accommodating, where you put the other person's needs ahead of your own. Forcing, where you put your needs ahead of the other person's. Compromising, where you each equally get some of your needs and lose others, and collaborating, where you work together to create a third solution that meets both your needs. As a leader, when conflict does arise, give it a little space and time.
You want to avoid stepping in too early, as long as you don't see anything toxic, you can afford to see what happens. If people come to you, support them in working it out. Empower them to take responsibility for the situation. You don't want your office to become complaint central. So set the expectation that they need to first attempt to resolve the conflict, and if they come to you, they must share what steps they've already done. This sets you up to be their sounding board, not the mediators. It's okay to coach them, but do so separately.
Ask each person questions about what's going on, and how they'd like to resolve it. People often feel unheard, misunderstood, or disrespected. Help them design their action plan for approaching the other in a constructive manner. Give them opportunity to try different strategies, coming back to you for advice or support if necessary. Only when those efforts are not effective, and at the request of at least one of the parties, should you consider getting directly involved, and even then you'll want to be in the role of mediator. Using these strategies will not only help your team move through conflict, but will also help them develop more of their own emotional intelligence.
Learn what emotional intelligence is and how it factors in at work and discover concrete techniques for raising your own emotional quotient (EQ). This includes perceiving yourself accurately, exercising emotional self-control, practicing resilience, and developing empathy. Then turn those lessons around to build your awareness of others and learn to inspire helpful communication and manage conflict.
Lynda.com is a PMI Registered Education Provider. This course qualifies for professional development units (PDUs). To view the activity and PDU details for this course, click here.
The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
- What is emotional intelligence?
- Cultivating emotional intelligence
- Exercising emotional self-control
- Working with your triggers
- Getting to know others
- Maximizing team performance
- Building influence