Conflict Resolution

by Aled Davies

Common questions

  1. How do conflicts start?
  2. What’s the difference between a conflict and disagreement?
  3. How do I know if I’ve got a conflict in my team?
  4. What’s the best way to approach someone I’m having a conflict with?
  5. How do I deal with aggressive behaviour?
  6. How do I diffuse tensions between colleagues during a team meeting?
  7. How do I stay calm in the face of conflict?

 

1. How do conflicts start?

Conflicts start in any number of ways, but there is effectively one ingredient that is common to them all: a difference of opinion, perspective, interpretation or belief between two or more parties. Fine, you say, but isn’t that just a disagreement? You’re right. It is simply a disagreement, but that’s how a conflict begins. There will always be a catalyst, something that starts the whole thing rolling. What happens next will determine whether it escalates into a conflict or not.

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2. What’s the difference between a conflict and a disagreement?

A disagreement turns into a conflict when one person or party decides to pursue their side of the argument in a way that causes harm – emotional, physical or otherwise – to the other person or party. That sets the conflict snowball in motion. As it grows, the conflict gathers momentum and can become increasingly difficult to stop.

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3. How do I know if I’ve got a conflict in my team?

It should perhaps be obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. Generally speaking, there are certain types of behaviour which indicate whether people are in conflict or not or whether their disagreement is turning into one. These behaviours relate either to what people say and do or often, in conflict situations, what they don’t say and don’t do. There is no blueprint to this: every individual and every conflict is different. That said, when you notice certain patterns in people’s behaviour, it’s really important that you check out your assumptions with them first to establish whether these are accurate or not.

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4. What’s the best way to approach someone I’m having a conflict with?

It’s important that you take time to prepare beforehand. Follow these steps and get your story straight:

  • Observations – what has the other person said or done that’s contributed to your conflict? Be specific – recall the words, gestures and actions.
  • Feelings – how did you feel and how do you feel as a result of what they did or said?
  • Impact – how has this impacted on you – your ability to do your job, your emotional needs getting met and your relationships with them and others?
  • Outcome – what outcome are you looking for? What do you want to be different in the future? What requests do you want to make about the way they behave in future? What are you prepared to do to contribute to a better future?

Once you’re clear on these four points, find an appropriate time to sit down with them and talk through your differences. Make sure that you

  • Pre-warn them that you’d like to address the issues between you, giving them time to prepare
  • Share your side of the story with them
  • Explore their side of the story – understand from them how they see things; it’s likely that you each view the world differently and will therefore have different perceptions of the conflict
  • Suspend your judgements and any blame and instead focus on the things that you want
  • Feel the fear and do it anyway!

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5. How do I deal with aggressive behaviour?

This four-step process (CDAM) is a highly effective way of assertively dealing with aggressive behaviour.

  1. Call the behaviour – ‘when you keep interrupting me and raising your voice’, for example.
  2. Describe the impact on you: ‘I feel frustrated and angry because I want to understand your point of view and also for you to understand mine.’
  3. Acknowledge the positive intention behind their behaviour: ‘I can appreciate you’ve got a lot to say and want to make sure you get it all out on the table.’
  4. Make alternative suggestions: ‘If you could pause for a second or two after I’ve finished my sentence, I could do the same and that way we might be able to understand each other better.’

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6. How do I diffuse tensions between colleagues during a team meeting?

The CDAM four-step process is useful for this, but you might need to get their attention first. An effective way of doing this, if they are arguing vociferously, is by mismatching their body language and matching the pace, tone and volume of their voices. So, for example, if you’re all seated, you then stand up and, as you do so, call both their names in a voice slightly louder than theirs. When you’ve got their attention, sit down and follow the four-step process (see above).

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7. How do I stay calm in the face of conflict?

First of all, it’s highly unnatural for most of us to remain calm when faced with conflict. It is far more important to remain resourceful.

  • Be aware of your emotional state.
  • Be aware of your breathing – if you notice that your breathing is shallow and fast, begin to take slow deep breaths from your belly; this will get more oxygen into your system and help bring your heart rate down a few beats. All this will help you think rationally and access any strategies or skills that you have to manage the situation.
  • Declare your state, both to yourself and, if you feel confident enough, then also to the other party. Feelings buried alive never die, so simply acknowledging to yourself that you’re feeling anxious, scared or otherwise will help you remain resourceful when under stress and pressure.

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