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Last Updated on April 30, 2019

Conflict Management Styles for Effective Communication at Work

Conflict Management Styles for Effective Communication at Work

Wherever human beings are, there is bound to be conflict. Regardless of the institution – whether it is a religious organization, fraternity, club, workplace or group of friends – conflict can happen.

The good news is that conflict is necessary for growth, development and success. The bad news is that in the moment, conflict rarely feels good.

There are a variety of conflict-management styles that allow effective communication at work and home. The conflict-management style that is your default is likely one you have learned at home or while growing up. The challenge is to have enough self-awareness to effectively assess whether your individual conflict-management style is productive.

From many years of therapy and executive coaching, I have learned that each of us has an inner child, or an underdeveloped shadow persona, and sometimes that inner child experiences conflict with others’ inner child.

Other times, we have deep philosophical differences about vision or the path for executing a vision. Yet still, I have been taught that people come into our lives – again whether at work, home or a social organization – to teach us areas in which we need to grow. Therefore, conflict is inescapable.

4 Conflict Management Styles for Effective Communication at Work

For effective communication at work, I recommend the following styles to successfully manage conflict:

1. Be Proactive

In crisis communications, I often counsel clients and colleagues that before a situation develops into a full-blown crisis, there are frequently warning signs. Failure to observe and act on red flags and warning signs leads to crises.

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To appropriately address conflict in the workplace, I recommend leaders and staff be as proactive and preemptive as possible. The moment you get a sense that something is off, investigate.

Alternatively, if you believe a problem is lurking, preemptively address it. Change course. Choose a different path. The worst thing you can do is pretend that a fire is not a fire or that an ember doesn’t have the potential to get bigger if stoked.

2. Be Clear

We have all heard the feedback of sandwiching negative feedback between two positives. I am not sure how I feel about this recommendation because it can lead to confusion. If there is a conflict in the workplace, lovingly but directly outline the problem. Do not wait until the point you are frustrated, because that is counterproductive. I have made this mistake countless times.

Out of a concern for other people’s feelings, I have remained silent only to reach a tipping point of frustration. When I finally unloaded what I was feeling, it was overwhelming and, in certain cases, destructive. Had I been willing to tell the truth earlier, I could have offered it in a way that was constructive and helpful.

State specifically what you are experiencing and the impact it has on you, the team and the organization. There should never be confusion. If you work in an environment where being direct is not valued, you will need to weigh what is more important: falling in line or being effective.

3. Make a Request

When you experience conflict at work, be sure to make a specific behavior request you’d like to see changed. In addition to outlining how a person’s actions may have impacted you, help the person by citing a specific request for what he or she can do going forward.

If your conversations start and stop on what a person has done wrong, that individual will have no way to make it better and could end up either resenting you or avoiding you if the person do not know how to change.

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Outline how you the other person’s actions have affected you and then make a corresponding request, such as:

“It bothers me when you speak to me this way, and I’d like to ask you not to use profanity when we engage with one another.”

Or,

“This is a little awkward, but I value our working relationship and I’d like to share something with you. I have noticed that you are routinely late for meetings. This interrupts my schedule, and it also leads me to believe you do not value our time together. Can we make an agreement that you will be on time for all meetings or that our meeting is canceled if you are more than eight to 10 minutes late?”

4. Understand When to Accommodate and When to Dig In

Fellow Lifehack.org writer, Margaret Olatunbosun, notes that among the many conflict-management styles are avoidance, accommodation, compromise and collaboration.

Avoidance is when you refuse to confront and deal with a challenge. Accommodation is when you seek to accommodate others’ wishes and desires, even at the exclusion of your own needs and preferences. Compromise is when each side offer and accepts mutual concessions, and collaboration occurs when both parties seek a win-win arrangement versus a win-at-all-costs one.

Depending on the conflict at work, you will choose one of these conflict-management styles. If there is an ethics lapse or a situation involving abuse or harassment, you shouldn’t seek to compromise with the responsible party; instead, you’ll want to dig in your heels and take corrective action to ensure a safe and supportive work environment.

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The point is to develop the wisdom and acumen to know which strategy to employ in various situations.

3 Powerful Conflict Management Strategies

Now that you understand the conflict-management styles that support effective communication, let’s look at a few strategies that will support your professional development and growth.

1. Seek First to Understand

When I am working with new clients and colleagues, I emphasize the importance of them developing a relationship with the media. I believe it is much harder to critique others or take them out of context when you know them.

The same is true in the workplace. When you have a disagreement, try to genuinely understand the other party’s point of view. Try to understand what makes the person an individual; know the person’s backstory and personal narrative.

When you understand the individual, you are less likely to get defensive over every perceived slight. Further, you understand that conflicts are rarely about a current situation but are about the culmination of challenges.

2. Pray for the Person with Whom You’re Having Conflict

Without fail, it is difficult to maintain a grudge or see the humanity in others when you pray for them. I am not going to tell you this is easy. When someone triggers or upsets you, the last thing many of us want to do is expend energy sending the person good thoughts or well wishes.

I once worked with a colleague who was incredibly dismissive and known for not responding to emails, phone calls or text messages. In addition to being non-responsive, the team member was rude. I worked with him for years and deeply disliked his lack of accountability. At some point, our relationship reached a tipping point, and I actively prayed either he or I would find a new job.

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Someone suggested that I pray for him. It felt odd at first to pray for someone who was making my life difficult. But I persisted. Then suddenly, I developed a genuine concern and understanding for my colleague. I grew sympathetic toward him. This allowed me to put our differences in context and develop a better working relationship with him.

3. Try to Speak the Person’s Language

Communication is one of the most powerful skills in the universe. Through language, you can create or decimate worlds. Through language, you can acquire a friend or make a lifelong enemy. In his book Words that Work, Frank Luntz underscores the importance of anticipating what others hear based on word choice.

If you are trying to influence a person or resolve a conflict, speak the other person’s language. And no, I don’t mean literally. I mean, speak in a way that increases the likelihood that the person with whom you are engaging will feel heard and respected.

The Bottom Line

Conflict management is probably one of the most important skill sets in both professional and personal environments. The people who can confront conflict head on and work through it without burning bridges will enjoy positive relationships and career success.

Here’s to hoping this article improves your ability to navigate the world, one conflict at a time.

More Resources About Workplace Communication

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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Jennifer R. Farmer

An author and public relations expert specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

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