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Interpersonal Conflict Resolution Strategies

Conflict resolution is a must for everyone. Interpersonal conflict arises as certain as death and taxes, and it is just as pervasive. There’s interpersonal conflict between team members, workplace conflict, conflict within marriages, and conflict within communities. Every person is unique so opportunities for disagreement abound.

Contrary to popular opinion, though, conflict is not necessarily bad when conflict management kicks in. Interpersonal conflict can either weaken or fortify social relationships. It all depends on the involved parties’ conflict resolution perspective and conflict management strategies.

Conflict Management - Key to Resolving Conflict

Whenever interpersonal conflict arises, do not avoid it. Instead, manage and master it. Reacting without thinking will lose you that person with whom you’re in conflict. Through strategic conflict management and some negotiation skills, conflict can be resolved with minimal damage and maximum benefits.

When managing conflict, begin from a cooperative or collaborative perspective. Do not think of the other person as an adversary. Think of him as someone you can work with towards a mutually satisfying conflict resolution. Unless you want to burn your bridges, you want your relationship with the other person to sustain no permanent damage.

Let’s say an employee wants a salary increase. The boss naturally doesn’t want to give it to him. A salary raise for the employee means a cost increase for the boss. Since there are incompatible interests, conflict arises. How will this conflict in the workplace end? It all depends on how good the involved parties are at resolving conflict.

If the boss and the employee have an adversarial approach to conflict, this is what’s going to happen.

The employee starts badmouthing his boss. He does his work halfheartedly and commits many mistakes in the process. The boss also starts complaining about the employee. He is always angry at the employee. He is also never short of reasons to tell the employee off. The conflict between the boss and the employee escalates. Ultimately, a blowup occurs and the conflict is resolved in one of two ways.

1. The boss becomes intractable until the employee resigns or gets fired.

2. The boss gives in just to keep the peace and grants the employee his salary increase.

In the first conflict resolution outcome, the boss wins but he loses an experienced employee in result. In the second workplace conflict outcome, the employee wins but earns the long-lasting distrust and hostility of a jaded boss. In either case, one of the conflicting parties wins in the short term but both parties lose in the long term.

Collaborative Conflict Management Strategy

If either the boss or the employee has a non-adversarial perspective, this is what’s going to happen.

The employee or the boss initiates a negotiation with the other party. The employee and the boss sit down to talk and discuss their concerns. All throughout the conflict negotiation process, interpersonal communication lines are kept open. Each party tries to understand the other party’s point of view. The boss and the employee even seek the help of a mediator if workplace conflict mediation services are available.

Upon continued discussion, the parties realize that they share common ground. Their interests aren’t irreconcilable after all. The employee begins to appreciate the complexity of running a business. He realizes that an unreasonable demand on his part just cannot be granted. If he persists, he’ll only lose his job.

On his part, the boss begins to realize how raising his employee’s salary can benefit him in the long run. It will motivate the employee to work harder. The employee’s productivity will increase and the boss’ profits will rise as well.

After shared interests have been acknowledged, a compromise is negotiated and agreed upon. Perhaps the employee lowers his demands, and the boss gives him a raise. A mutually satisfying conflict resolution is finally achieved.

The collaborative conflict management strategy also brings other types of benefits. Each party is impressed by the other party’s understanding and fair dealing. Consequently, the relationship between the boss and the employee becomes stronger. Ultimately, the employee gains job security while the boss gains a hardworking and trustworthy associate.

Cooperative Conflict Resolution Is Always Possible

There are conflicts where a mutually satisfying resolution is no longer possible. Conflicts in court (litigation) are adversarial since one party’s gain is a definite loss to the other. Most judicial disputes are escalated conflicts, however. Initially, they could have been resolved through conflict negotiation, conflict mediation or other more cooperative conflict management methods.

A cooperative conflict management strategy can be used to resolve a business conflict, a workplace conflict or all other conflict types. Whenever you’re in a conflict situation, try to resolve the conflict through conflict negotiation or conflict mediation. Treat adversarial methods like litigation as conflict resolution methods of last resort. Why go through the tedium and expense of litigation if yielding a little leads to a much more satisfying conflict resolution outcome?

The previous article is on Corporate Communications.

Other wiki resources: communication skills; team building; employee communications; corporate communications; conflict resolution