“The better able team members are to engage, speak, listen, hear, interpret, and respond constructively, the more likely their teams are to leverage conflict rather than be leveled by it.” —Runde and Flanagan
We’d like to pretend that everything will always be sunshine and rainbows, but let’s be real. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just human nature to have differences of opinions, feelings, and styles of work or communication. What sets you apart is your ability to recognize and resolve conflict.
Putting your head in the sand and avoiding conflict is usually not effective, and the conflict will likely escalate if not dealt with. Unresolved conflict can lead to work disruptions, decreased productivity, project failure, turnover, and termination — yikes! If you or the team members you manage are involved with conflict, it’s important to know how to manage it and develop negotiation skills. So let’s dive in!
What Are The Sources Of Internal Conflict?
The first step in understanding and mitigating conflict is to consider the typical sources of conflict. According to psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart, there are eight common causes underlying what is actually the “surface” of the conflict:
Problem: All of us see the world through our own lens, and we often don’t realize what another person’s lens is showing them.
Solution: Communicate openly. The more information you share with people, the less likely it is that they will come up with their own interpretations.
Problem: Everyone works differently, according to our individual needs and personality. Of course that’s OK, but sometimes different styles can clash, which is where the problem arises.
Solution: Consider people's working styles and group roles when you build your team. If you’re not in charge of your team roles, talk to your manager about what you feel is aligned or misaligned with your personal style.
Problem: Conflicting values can occur when business values don’t match up with personal values. This may not necessarily refer only to ethics, but also to values such as innovation vs. tradition.
Solution: Again, communication is key. Find the sweet spot where people can understand and respect why others hold certain values, even if they don’t agree with them. Then, you can create a work environment that leverages the values you do share.
Problem: Conflicting goals can create confusion. For example, a project needs to be done quickly, but it must also be high-quality; or someone is told to accomplish a task through differing methods or instructions.
Solution: Whenever you set goals for your team members, make sure that those goals don't conflict with other goals. And if you are being assigned goals that are unclear or conflicting, speak with your manager and clarify or negotiate goals that work for everyone.
Problem: Conflicting pressures are similar to conflicting goals in that they send mixed signals; the only difference is that conflicting pressures usually involve urgent tasks, while conflicting goals typically involve projects with longer timelines.
Solution: Reschedule tasks and deadlines to relieve the pressure.
Problem: We all need access to certain shared resources, such as company budget, office supplies, help from colleagues, or a conference room.
Solution: Prevent resource conflict through proper planning, learning to prioritize time and resources, and evaluating what kind of allocation best meets the company’s priorities. If there is already conflict over a resource, sit both parties down to discuss openly why their needs are at odds. An open discussion about the problem can help each party see the other's perspective.
Problem: Sometimes we have to perform tasks that are outside our normal role or responsibilities. This may cause us to step into someone else's "territory," or we may feel that a task should be completed by someone else.
Solution: Since this is tied closely to perception, make an effort to eliminate this conflict by communicating openly, and to focus both parties on shared objectives.
Problem: When rules and policies change at work and they aren’t clearly communicated with your team, confusion and conflict can occur.
Solution: Communicate exactly what will be done and why the policy is in place. When people understand why the rules are there, they're more likely to accept the change. Once the rules are in place, strive to enforce them fairly and consistently.
How To Approach Conflicts In Your Dental Practice
Now that you have a better understanding of the root issues underlying a conflict, let’s discuss how to approach a conflict.
Get to know how you and your co-workers communicate.
We encourage you and your team to take this Myers‑Briggs personality test and share the results together. By taking this quiz, you’ll be more adept to understanding your unique communication skills, and the ways in which other team members communicate as well.
View the conflict as an opportunity.
Hidden within almost every conflict is the potential for a teaching or learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement, there is an inherent potential for growth and development through innovation. Keep an open mind as you approach a conflict.
Understand the situation.
Few situations are exactly as they seem or as presented to you by others. Before you try to settle the conflict, ensure you have investigated both sides of the issue.
Acknowledge the problem.
Keep in mind what appears to be a small issue to you can be a major issue with another. Acknowledging the frustration and any concerns is an important step in resolving the conflict.
Be patient and take your time.
Take time to evaluate all information. A hasty decision does more harm than good when it turns out to be the wrong decision and can further alienate the individual involved.
Focus on the problem, not the individual.
Avoid your own preconceived attitudes about individuals. Focus on identifying and resolving the conflict. If, after careful and thorough analysis, you determine the individual is the problem, then focus on the individual at that point.
5 Strategies To Negotiate Solutions
Don’t go at it alone.
No, this does not mean trying to get more people “on your side.” Employees usually make matters worse when they try to resolve conflict in the workplace on their own. Because our perceptions are based on self-interest, we’re likely to have difficulty finding solutions that both sides consider to be fair.
Enlist the help of someone such as a manager or colleague who is suited to be a fair and unbiased mediator and willing to help facilitate negotiations.
Before conducting a formal meeting, both parties need to agree to a few meeting guidelines. It’s important to express yourself calmly, and as unemotionally as possible. Agree to attempt to understand each other’s perspective.
Understand that, if guidelines are not met, the meeting will come to an end and both parties will have time to cool off before reconvening at another time.
Keep the communication open.
The ultimate goal in conflict resolution is for both parties to resolve the issue between themselves. The mediator should allow both parties to express their viewpoint, but also share their perspective. If needed, the mediator should facilitate the meeting and help them pinpoint the real issue causing conflict.
Work towards a win-win solution.
Negotiation is not a competition, it’s a collaboration. If you are thinking of it in terms of “winning,” you should be looking for a win-win solution that benefits both parties.
If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals, you will find few obstacles will stand in your way.
Once you have taken time to gather information, talked to all the parties involved, and reviewed all the circumstances, make your decision and act.
Don’t leave the issue in limbo. Taking too long to make a decision could damage your credibility and their perception of you. They may view you as either too weak, too uncaring, or both, to handle the problem. Not everyone will agree with your decision, but at least they will know where you stand.
If you’re looking for other great resources on conflict resolution strategies, check out this article (a 15-minute read) or this 13-minute Ted Talk, which details that good disagreement is central to progress.
We hope these tips are helpful for understanding, approaching, and resolving conflict! Is there a certain skill you'd like some more information on? If so, give us a shout out on Instagram, we'd be happy to share our tips.