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Author credits:
Casey Miller is president of Six and a Half Consulting and is a leadership and team development specialist. His consultancy teaches organizations the skills needed to create motivated and inspired workplaces.

Finding better resolutions to conflicts in business and elsewhere

For most of us Canucks, conflict avoidance is about as Canadian as a double-double or the CBC.  That’s because most of us typically don’t have the skills necessary to engage in conflict in healthy ways.  Avoid no more!  What follows is a play-by-play for the five types of conflict resolution better than Don Cherry could offer.

Avoidance (no winners, no losers)

The avoidance strategy involves staying away from conflict instead of addressing the issue.  It is a short-term solution that often results in even more frustration in the long run.  While avoiding a conflict won’t help solve the point of disagreement, there are some times when it is the best course of action.

  • When to use avoidance:  The issue is so trivial that there is no point in putting time and energy into dealing with it.  The cost of “winning” might, over the long term, outweigh any short-term benefit of reaching a resolution.  The potential for disruption or damage to the relationship is more significant than the benefits of resolving the conflict.  There is insufficient time to deal with the issue at a particular point in time.  You are certain there is no way your concerns will be met.

  • When not to use avoidance:  When postponing dealing with a conflict will make things worse.  When it is your primary means of dealing with conflict – this technique is not appropriate in many situations, and often is appropriate only as a temporary option.

Accommodation (I lose; you win)

Accommodation involves some self-sacrifice.  Accommodating can be a good strategy in some circumstances.

  • When to use accommodation:  The issue is trivial and the outcome doesn’t matter.  Harmony is more important than resolving the conflict.  Your long-term objective is more important than winning, such as dealing with a difficult customer in order to close a sale.  It’s important to let the other person learn from his or her mistakes.  You realize that you are wrong.  You want to minimize hard feelings in situations that you are not going to win.

  • When not to use accommodation:  When there is an important issue that needs to be addressed.  When you need to assert yourself.

Competition (I win; you lose)

This approach is appropriate in a few situations, but usually permanently damages relationships.

  • When to use competition:  A quick, decisive action is required, such as in an emergency situation.  You are certain that you are correct.  You need to stand up for yourself against a pushy person who is trying to take advantage of you.  You need to assert your authority.

  • When not to use competition:  Your goal is to foster teamwork and co-operation.  The person you are in conflict with has formal power and the decision-making authority that goes along with it, and you do not.

Compromise (win some, lose some)

Many workplace conflicts are best handled by compromise.  This approach involves elements of collaboration, in that those who are involved in the decision must reach an agreement on it.  However, it does not have the win-win element of collaboration (below).
Compromising involves an element of accommodation, in that all parties involved give up part of what they want, and an element of competition, in that all parties get part of what they want.  The end result is a workable solution that partially meets the needs of everyone who is involved.

  • When to use compromise:  When the people who are in conflict are willing to be flexible.  When the affected individuals will be satisfied with getting part of what they want.  When agreement is more important than making a quick decision.  When the people in the relationship have equal power relevant to the situation under discussion.  To come up with a temporary solution to a complex situation that requires more time to consider before making a permanent decision.

  • When not to use compromise:  When the issue is relatively minor and so an accommodating or competitive solution might make more practical sense.

Collaboration (win-win)

Collaboration is a win-win approach to conflict management.  It is based on the belief that it really is possible to come up with a solution that will satisfy the concerns and meet the needs of everyone involved.

  • When to use collaboration:  The concerns of everyone involved are of utmost importance.  There is a high degree of trust among everyone involved in the conflict.  It’s important to preserve a positive, long-term relationship between those who are in conflict.  It is really important for everyone involved to be fully committed to the outcome.  One person does not want – or should not have – full responsibility for the final decision.  There is a need for the people involved to work through animosity.

  • When not to use collaboration:  Decision must be made quickly, resulting in insufficient time for true collaboration.  When the issue is so minor that it doesn’t warrant spending time on collaborating.  When the parties involved do not have sufficient trust or respect for each other to expect this type of approach to be effective.

Previously published in Business in Vancouver: September 19-25, 2017