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Conflict management - how does it work properly?

Reading time 10 minutes
Conflict management - how does it work properly?

Conflicts are part of life. You cannot avoid them completely, nor can you avoid them permanently. Most people associate conflicts with difficulties, resentment and anger. But conflicts are not always negative. On the contrary: solved constructively, they can even open up hidden opportunities. However, this requires a functioning conflict management.

What is conflict management?

Conflict management refers to all methods and measures that are intended to resolve a conflict peacefully. The goal is not to be right, but to find a common solution. Conflict management is important in order to avoid escalations and the resulting negative consequences.

The parties who disagree should engage in constructive debate. This means listening to each other and letting them talk it out. The causes of the differences of opinion are systematically illuminated. Reproaches or personal attacks must be consistently avoided.

In summary, conflict management has the following objectives:

  1. Management of existing conflicts
  2. Prevention of avoidable conflicts
  3. Proactive resolution of unavoidable conflicts

The importance of conflict management on the job

In professional life, conflict management is of particular importance. In every company there are people who provoke quarrels and those who cling to the avoidance strategy. If there is no conflict management, the louder one inevitably wins. Just because the others always back down, however, does not resolve the conflict. The consequence: Dissatisfaction in the workplace.

Dissatisfaction in turn leads to a lack of motivation and reduced performance. In extreme cases, this even increases the number of internal and actual resignations. Long-term psychological consequences (depression, burnout) among employees cannot be ruled out either in the event of a lack of or inadequate conflict management.

It is therefore in the interest of the company that existing conflicts to the Satisfaction be solved by the entire workforce. Furthermore, the early detection and prevention of conflicts plays an essential role in professional conflict management. Therefore, every manager should be trained in conflict management. Most companies already handle this in this way.

What is conflict?

Conflict occurs when the interests of two or more people seem incompatible. This can occur in all areas of life. With the multitude of different personalities that come together in daily life, this is hardly surprising.

However, there are different types of conflicts. Knowing what type of conflict it is can be very helpful in finding a solution. Therefore, we will take a closer look at the different types of conflict below:

Factual conflict

In a factual conflict, there is disagreement about a factual issue. Example: Employee X is of the opinion that employee Y performed his tasks incorrectly. The factual situation is at least partially provable. However, there is disagreement about which specifications apply at all. Sometimes there are also different, seemingly irreconcilable solutions under discussion.

Relationship conflict

When people meet, sympathies and antipathies automatically arise. If the latter are strongly pronounced, this can have a negative effect on the cooperation. Usually there is no rational reason for the rejection. To put it colloquially, the people involved simply can't smell each other. It becomes problematic when personal dislike is followed by targeted attacks and insults.

Role conflict

People take on roles in both their personal and professional lives that they can identify with. An outdated but well-known example is the role of the man as the breadwinner of the family. Each role contains overt as well as unspoken expectations. If the role conception that others have of a person does not conform to his self-image, there is a role conflict.

Distribution conflict

In a distribution conflict, there is disagreement about the distribution of available resources. This can be material things as well as privileges or tasks.

Communication conflicts

Human communication is not limited to words. Gestures and facial expressions also play a decisive role. If the spoken word and non-verbal communication create a contradictory impression, this can lead to serious misunderstandings.

Power conflict

A power conflict arises when someone feels threatened in their position of power. Example: Two companies are to enter into a merger, but neither of the two managing directors wants to lose their influence. There are also power conflicts in the private sphere. Ultimately, the desire to retain the desired - usually powerful - image is always in the foreground here.

Conflict of values

If someone cannot reconcile a certain activity with their personal values, there is a conflict of values. This can be, for example, different views of work or work ethics. But value conflicts also lurk in the private sphere. Example: Someone cares about the environment but still drives to work every day out of convenience.

Advantages and disadvantages of conflicts

Conflicts are not only unpleasant, but also offer opportunities for growth. You just need to be able to recognize them. Conflicts basically show that a change is needed. Let's look at the benefits in detail:

  1. A conflict can bring about necessary changes. Example: A conflict within a company can lead to old work processes being rethought and improved.
  2. Conflict can preserve the tried and true. Example: An innovation is proposed that does not achieve the goal. Within the framework of conflict management, this is recognised and averted.
  3. Conflict can solidify group membership. Example: When there is disagreement, you can't avoid engaging with those around you. By communicating with each other in an appreciative way and developing understanding for different points of view, the community is strengthened.
  4. A conflict can promote versatility. Example: Most conflicts are quite complex, i.e. there are various reasons why someone disagrees with something. Conflicts bring different perspectives to light, which can broaden one's horizon - as long as one gets involved.

Of course, conflicts also bring disadvantages. This is especially true if they remain unspoken. First and foremost, conflicts bring a feeling of stress and strain for most people. Surely you know those moments when you have the feeling that nobody is interested in your opinion. If you are busy with all kinds of problems, an additional conflict can easily overwhelm you. Don't put it off for a long time. Even if it feels like jumping in at first, authentic communication often brings you clarity quickly - and peace of mind down the road.

However, it is not helpful to ignore conflicts just because you do not seem to have the strength to face them. In silence, the problems become bigger and bigger, until they have actually taken on an almost unmanageable dimension. You should not let it come to that. In summary, it can be said: Disadvantages only bring unresolved conflicts.

Frequent conflicts on the job

All the types of conflict listed can occur in professional life. However, relationship and communication conflicts are particularly common. Relationship conflicts include, for example, pejorative behavior, manners that are perceived as impolite, and even Mobbing. Communication conflicts arise due to imprecise agreements and a stagnant flow of information.

In addition, it is worth noting that there are different types of communication. Some of them do not harmonize with each other, which makes it difficult to deal with. However, the problem can be solved by analyzing and adjusting the communication behavior. This can be done, for example, with the DISG test.

In higher positions, power conflicts are not uncommon in professional life. Perhaps you have also experienced that long-time colleagues have suddenly become rivals when they have both applied for the same higher position.

How to avoid conflicts

In principle, it is not possible to avoid conflicts in general. They are simply part of interpersonal interaction. However, there are some ways to prevent them. In professional life, these include the following measures:

  • clearly defined task and job descriptions
  • clearly defined corporate goals
  • open information policy

The clearer it is communicated who has what authority and what goals are to be achieved, the less potential there is for misunderstandings. The same is true in your personal life: If you want to avoid conflicts, you should always clearly express who you are and what you want.

Methods and exercises for conflict management

Conflicts can be solved in different ways. In the following, we would like to introduce you to the most proven methods that managers use:

Change of perspective

As the name suggests, the change of perspective is about putting yourself in the other person's shoes. Why does the person act the way he does? What fears and hopes are driving him? By analysing the point of view of the other party to the conflict, the possibility of a more neutral view of the conflict opens up. Perhaps the motives can even be understood?

You should allow about an hour for the analysis. One after the other you now take different perspectives: I, You, It. In the "I-role" it is about your own point of view. In the "you-role" you take the perspective of the conflict party. Then you try to look at the conflict from a neutral perspective (E-role).

Harvard Method

The Harvard concept aims to resolve the existing conflict with a friendly settlement. The aim is to create a win-win situation for all parties involved. With the Harvard principle, there is neither giving in nor hard bargaining. Instead, a fact-based discussion is sought. This means separating personal sensitivities from the sober facts of the matter.

The Harvard Method is based on four principles:

  1. The factual level and the relationship level are strictly separated: the person is not the problem, but the fact.
  2. The interests of all parties are presented and taken seriously.
  3. Solution strategies and alternative proposals are developed from which all parties involved benefit.
  4. Neutral evaluation criteria are used. These can be legal guidelines, for example.

Iceberg model

The iceberg model is one of the best-known conflict management strategies. Most of the time, you only see the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The causes lie hidden beneath the surface. The iceberg model illustrates this by dividing the conflict into two levels:

  • 1/7 Visible behaviour (factual level)
  • 6/7 Feelings, fears, original motives (relationship level)

This means that personal motives are always hidden behind factual conflicts! The latter must be found out and resolved. The best way to do this is to enter into an open dialogue with the other party.

KULT model

The acronym KULT stands for the four essential phases of conflict management:

  • K: Clarification (analysis of the situation; what is it about?)
  • U: Causes (discussions and research to find the causes)
  • L: Solution (possible solutions are collected, evaluated and assessed)
  • T: Transfer (practical implementation of the proposed solutions)

If one proceeds according to this scheme, the conflict will be resolved in a structured and peaceful manner.

Mediation and supervision

If one's own efforts with regard to conflict resolution have failed, a neutral view from the outside can work wonders. A mediator takes on the function of a conflict moderator. He plans the course of the conflict talks and mediates between the disagreeing parties. This ensures that the conflict talks maintain a factual and constructive framework.

A supervisor is a person who obtains an overall view of the situation of individual departments or the entire company through observation. In contrast to the mediator, the supervisor remains more passive. He does not propose solutions, but leads to self-reflection.

How bad is your conflict? The 9 escalation levels according to Glasl

Friedrich Glasl is an Austrian economist and organizational consultant who developed a model of escalation in 1980. Most conflicts start with a small misunderstanding, which is not cleared up and eventually develops a dangerous momentum of its own.

The escalation level model according to Glasl is divided into three main phases, which in turn have three subphases.

Stage 1: Win-Win

At this stage, a constructive resolution of the conflict is still possible. The win-win stage comprises three sub-stages:

  • Hardening (the conflict arises)
  • Debate (the conflict is discussed)
  • Action (both parties come into action)

Stage 2: Win-Lose

If no solution was found in the first stage, the downward spiral now begins. One of the two parties will inevitably suffer losses. The three sub-stages are:

  • Coalition (alliances are formed against the conflict party)
  • Loss of face (one of the two cannot keep his statements)
  • Threats (the prospect of consequences)

Stage 3: Loose-Lose

If the conflict escalates, both sides lose in the end. As a concise example, wars can be mentioned at this point. The last phase includes the following stages:

  • Destruction (the aim is to destroy)
  • Fragmentation (identity is lost)
  • Joint demise (both parties lose)

The 5 phases in conflict management

Once the conflict has arisen, it does not simply vanish into thin air. However, successful conflict management requires time and Patience. Until the settlement of the conflict will go through five stages.

Phase 1: Prelude

In this phase the first contact between the conflict parties is established. This is why it is also referred to as the contact phase. Both parties are encouraged to try to be objective. If you do not feel ready, because you are still too angry, the first contact should be postponed until the tempers have calmed down. Communicate this openly.

Phase 2: Self-declaration

As the name suggests, in the second phase all parties get the chance to present their personal point of view: What's the issue, anyway? What specifically bothers you? What were the triggers? The points of conflict are filtered out and analysed objectively. Refrain from accusations, blame and generalizations.

Phase 3: Dialogue

Now the parties are entering into a constructive dialogue. The aim is to convey mutual understanding. Ultimately, at the end of the dialogue phase, you should be able to understand why the other party has acted in a certain way. Important: Understanding the motives does not necessarily mean endorsing them.

In addition, common ground is sought which could form the basis of a compromise.

Phase 4: Solution

In the fourth phase, one looks for concrete approaches to solving the existing conflict. The following aspects are important here:

  • What could a fair solution look like in detail?
  • What solutions could be implemented?
  • Which of the workable solutions would be okay for both sides?

Phase 5: Conclusion

At the end of conflict management, all collected and accepted possible solutions are repeated and examined once again. If all parties to the conflict can agree, concrete measures are decided. At the end of the discussion, the conflict is settled by the parties involved ideally shaking hands.

Results of a conflict management

The result of conflict management should ideally be the peaceful resolution of the conflict. This includes the clarification of misunderstandings as well as the conclusion of compromises. In professional life, conflict management ensures a harmonious working atmosphere, which in turn leads to more motivated and efficient employees.

After successful conflict management, the parties involved in the conflict can continue to work together constructively and do not develop any resentment against each other, as they feel they have been treated equally fairly.

Conflict management is essential for corporate success

If you are already a manager or thinking about building your own business team, you should definitely deal with the topic of conflict management. There is simply no way around it. Where people meet, conflicts arise, which you as a successful manager must be able to handle.

At this point we would like to recommend our business coaching webinar to you. The renowned business coach Dr. Frederik Hümmeke shows you:

  • how to build and lead a successful team
  • how to motivate your employees (exclusive know-how from the business coaching sector)
  • how to take your personal and professional development to a new level

Does this sound promising to you? Then you should secure a place for our webinar as soon as possible, preferably today: https://go.greator.com/webinar-business-coaching/

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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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