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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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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