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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 trainer specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you realize you aren’t really happy about this, wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while but I learned the art of saying no. Saying ‘no’ meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. I started to manage my time more around my own needs and interests. When that happened, I became a lot happier. And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying ‘no,’ you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey considered one of the most successful women in the world confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything. It was only when she realized that after years of struggling with saying no, I finally got to this question: “What do I want?”

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

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Warren Buffett views no as essential to his success. He said,

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made ‘no’ a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say ‘no.’

From an early age, we are conditioned to say ‘yes.’ We said yes probably hundreds of time in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work. We said yes get a promotion. We said yes to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because it feels better to help someone. We say yes because it can seem like the right thing to do. We say yes because we think that is key to success. And we say yes because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist like the boss.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we feel guilty we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message no matter where we turn is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

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How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Deciding to add the word ‘no’ to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say ‘no’ but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of ‘no’ that you could finally create more time for things you care about. But let’s be honest, using the word ‘no’ doesn’t come easily for many people.

The 3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time especially you haven’t done it much in the past will feel awkward.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

Remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it, who else knows about all of the demands on your time? No one. Only you are at the center of all of these requests. are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying ‘No’ Means Saying ‘Yes’ to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word ‘no’ into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying ‘no’ is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because FOMO even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

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Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better.

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say ‘No’

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say ‘yes’ because we worry about how others will respond or the consequences of saying no or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose respect from others. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying ‘no’ can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way. You might disappoint someone initially but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to.

4. When the Request Comes In, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time, or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say ‘no.’ There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your ‘No’ with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

A clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

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6. Consider How to Use a Modified ‘No’

If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” giving you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

Final Thoughts

Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

Use the request as a fresh request to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself. If you are the one placing the demand on yourself, try to evaluate the demand as if it were coming from somewhere else.

Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project but not by working all weekend. Or, tell someone in your family you can’t loan them money again because they never paid you back the last time. You’ll find yourself much happier.

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Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

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