Many people fear conflict, and yet it is part of life and part of our long-term relationships. Every time we are surrounded by people, there’s a potential occasion for conflict because they might want or need something different from what we want. This is why we should learn how to deal with it.
Basically, a conflict is a disagreement about ideas, feelings, beliefs, goals, values, or priorities. But at the core, a conflict is something involving emotions. When we don’t care, that is we don’t have any emotion about something, there’s no place for it.
It’s only when we do feel that it might be a conflict.
Since conflict is at the core of any long-term relationship, it’s clear that in building or leading a team, we can expect to have to deal with it. But conflict isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can be a positive force for change. It can be an opportunity to solve problems and strength bonds; of course, if we can manage it.
As Amy Gallo states, researcher in working environments, managers and leaders, who approach conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem, can find some tangible benefits. Therefore, despite our natural tendency in case we fear it, dealing with conflict is a crucial skill to succeed at work.
The Thomas-Kilmann model
Developed in the 60s, the Thomas-Kilmann model provides us with a framework to deal with it.
This model describes the two core dimensions to choose a behavior in this kind of situation: assertiveness and cooperativeness. Assertiveness refers to the position in which you try to get your preferred outcomes. I’d rather call it self-focus, since assertiveness usually means defending your position while respecting the thoughts and wishes of others.
Cooperativeness is the level to which you will think of the other side’s problems.
We can build a matrix, taking these two factors (assertiveness in the Y-Axis, and cooperativeness in the X-Axis) as follows:
From this matrix, we have five strategies to deal with conflict, but as you can see, not all of them really serve to manage and solve them.
Win – win solution
The most beneficial outcome comes from collaboration, when both parts work to find a scenario where they have what they want. Collaboration means to work with the other to jointly address the problem. This implies looking for a creative solution, understanding the why of the problem.
At times, it’s impossible to reach a win-win scenario, though. There’s no other way but to compromise. Compromising means to find a place good enough for both sides. It probably implies to give up something and seek for middle-ground solutions, providing concessions.
Any of the other three possibilities didn’t solve the conflict.
In summary, we should choose our behavior in front of a conflict. There’s much to win if we improve these skills.