Various ways for dealing with conflict fall somewhere on two axes: concern for others versus concern for self. Some models are more successful than others. Skilled communicators know when to apply each of these methods and how the various strategies may be used in combination.
Every situation is different and needs to be judged on its own merits. Often, the choice of the approach or method is based upon that which provides a solution and which provides a long-lasting solution versus a temporary fix.
The “My-way” method typically promotes coercion or competition – a difficult dynamic to sustain (becomes “my way or the highway”). In this situation, one side uses their power over the other to force a decision to be made or a solution to be agreed upon. This creates a win-lose situation. It does result in a solution, but it’s not the “best” as seen by the “losing” party. The only time this method might be absolutely necessary is during an emergency when a manager must require compliance immediately because of safety or legal reasons.
Still, it is usually better to avoid this strategy, because it often promotes a win-lose attitude. The “No-way,” “Avoidance,” or “Withdrawal” method often does not result in a solution, making it counterproductive. This occurs when one side will not address the conflict and will instead walk away from the issue, resulting in a lose-lose situation. It is a temporary fix or solution, which only begs the problem to resurface until it is dealt with, either effectively or not. It may be minimally used, however, if you need to buy time to cool off or get additional information.
The “Your-way” or “Accommodation” method is capitulation, but it may be successful if the other side has previously done the same, or if there is no other alternative and the relationship must be sustained. Quite often it is accomplished by downplaying the differences of each side. In this way, the disagreeing members will be more likely to compromise.
The “Half-way” or “Compromising” method can work under the same circumstances as those for “your way”. A compromise means that both sides have to give up something in order to find common ground. In this case, neither side totally wins, but neither side totally loses.
A true compromise is possible only when all parties involved attempt to meet all of the parties halfway. This occurs when there is equal concern for others as there is for yourself. Each side gives and each side gets. Everyone gives just enough so all parties end up satisfied.
The downside of compromise stems from the fact that many people see a compromise not as a win-win solution, but as a lose-lose proposition. They either feel they gave too much or did not receive enough, no matter what it was they gave or received during the compromise. The “what” becomes relatively unimportant in these situations, and it is the “how much” that becomes the focus, correctly or incorrectly. What you end up with is an “MUC” – a mutually unacceptable compromise where neither side will be committed to making the proposed solution to the problem actually work. It also faces the danger of one side not getting what it wants (known as the “tyranny of the majority”). A compromise in this manner is seen as a temporary solution.
The power of the “Our-way” or “Collaboration” method is often most successful for long-term results, because it gets the buy-in of everyone who is involved in the outcome, creating a win-win solution. It does, however, require the most time and effort, and that is the reason it may not be employed as often as it should. In theory the Collaboration method works great, but in a real-world situation it may not be feasible. For example, if two children are fighting over an orange, as adults we may be tempted to offer the following solution: simply cut the orange and half. Each child receives half an orange and is told to go away and leave the adults alone. But with this approach, we must go further. Ask each child why they want the orange. Perhaps one child wants the orange because he or she is thirsty, and wants to drink the juice from the fruit. The other child may want the orange in order to obtain the seeds, plant them, and grow additional oranges. Simply splitting the orange between the children would result in only a partial success.
With an “Our way/collaborating” approach, based upon the children’s needs, you can accommodate both parties. You must first build consensus within your group about a strategy (both children desire different parts of the orange). Then, make certain that is the best strategy and that you have the time to successfully implement it. One child can remove the seeds as the other presses the fruit to extract the juice. During the process, solicit feedback from everyone (brainstorming can be a useful tool here). Acknowledge disagreement, but focus on the things that everyone can agree on, and stay positive while taking small steps, and you will be successful.
Sometimes the “Our way” method is possible, but at times it is not, such as when there is not enough time to reach a solution. In any case, it always requires a project manager to work harder and dig even deeper in order to understand the “why” of the disagreement.
Confrontation is also known as problem-solving. The word confrontation may sound negative, but in this context it isn’t. It means you are simply dealing with and attempting to solve a problem. This can be done in several ways, but all of them require you to begin by researching the facts of the conflict and then making a decision based upon those facts. It is considered to be a win-win technique and one that PMI feels should most often be used by project managers.
This article was originally published in Global Knowledge’s Business Brief e-newsletter. Global Knowledge delivers comprehensive hands-on project management, business process, and professional skills training. Visit our online Knowledge Center at www.globalknowledge.com/business for free white papers, webinars, and more.
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