Many of us underestimate how big a role conflict management plays in everyday work situations. But, if you stop to think about it for a minute, you will find that the need to manage conflict is something that occurs all the time.
If someone pops her head into your office and says: “I wonder what you think about that idea I mentioned the other day?” – how do you respond? Do you respond differently depending on whether you agree with the idea, or not? This is a situation where your preferences and ability to manage conflict comes into play.
Conflict is simply defined as a condition in which the concerns of those involved in a situation differ, and appear to be incompatible. Research has shown that each of us generally has an approach that we normally prefer to use in handling conflict — our conflict management “preference.”
Let’s use the above example – someone pokes her head in your door to ask a question – to illustrate how this business of conflict management preference might work. We’ll look at three different responses that might occur, from the perspective that, at this moment, you don’t agree with the idea.
- Response 1: One approach that you might have is to work toward resolving a conflict by asserting your own position. In this case, you might respond to the question by saying: ” I’ve been thinking about it. In fact, I think that this other approach (the one you think might be better), might be worth considering. Let me explain why….”
- Response 2: Here’s another approach – to find a compromise position. If this were your preference, you might say: “I’ve been thinking about how your idea would work with another idea I’ve been considering. Here’s a way that I think we could satisfy both.”
- Response 3: As a third example, you might be someone who has a preference to manage conflict by accomodating it. Even though you don’t really think her idea is very good, you don’t have a better idea to suggest–at least for right now. Why rock the boat if there’s not something better? Besides, you like to cooperate whenver you don’t really feel differently. So, you say: “It sounds good!”
So, here’s a little quiz – Which of the three responses indicates a more postitive attitude to accepting the original idea?
Would you be surprised if it were Response 1? It might be. Counter-intuitively for most of us, the first response might signal a more open attitude than the other two. This person might actually think the original idea is quite good, but is just not convinced and wants to put it to the test. What this person may value is the opportunity to debate one idea vs. the other as a way of discovering the best one.
The lesson? How we manage conflict with others can as much reflect our approach, as it does the content of our ideas. What seems like agreement may, in fact, be someone simply avoiding or accomodating conflict. What might sound like disagreement might simply be someone who values testing ideas and has many of his own to test with.
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