Effective Conflict Management
Unfortunately in the practice of economic development conflict seems inevitable. But, conflict doesn’t necessarily need to be divisive. If handled properly it can contribute to an even stronger outcome.
One of the tools I was exposed to in my career is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. The tool is a forced choice survey that assesses an individual’s concern for people versus concern for the task. In my opinion, the most valuable aspect of the work is the classification of conflict into 5 categories. This model helps you better understand that not all conflict is identical and better prepares you to find a success resolution by adjusting your approach to align with the category.
5 Categories of Conflict
Competing – “Might Makes Right”. This is the classic power oriented conflict. Each person pursues his or her own concerns at the other’s expense. They use whatever power necessary to win. People will argue, withhold resources, ignore calls, etc.. Competing might look like standing up for your rights, defending a position you feel is correct, or simply refusing to be the person who loses.
This approach is good for when quick decisions are required (e.g. an emergency), when the decision is going to be unpopular (e.g. cost cutting), or when the issue is vital to your community’s welfare and you know you are right.
Accommodating – “Kill Your Enemies With Kindness”. This is the opposite of competing. An individual neglects his or her own concerns to satisfy the concerns of the other person (or group). Think of it as the self-sacrificing or martyr mode. Accommodating might take the form of selfless generosity, obeying without question even if the person would rather not, or constantly yielding to the other person’s point of view.
This approach is good when you realize you are wrong, when the issue is clearly more important to the other person and you want to create goodwill, when harmony is considered of paramount importance, or when it is clear you are going to lose (e.g. your Board is intransigent).
Avoiding – “Leave Well Enough Alone”. This is an unassertive and uncooperative approach to conflict. When avoiding, a person doesn’t share what his or her concerns are up-front. He or she does not address the conflict. The person might diplomatically side step the issue, postpone engagement, or even withdraw from the situation.
This approach makes sense when other issues are more pressing or important, when you perceive there is no chance of having your concerns addressed, when the cost of conflict outweighs the benefits (e.g. responding to a negative editorial), when you want to provide people time to calm down, or when others can resolve the conflict more effectively (e.g. escalating a decision to your Board).
Collaborating – “Two Heads Are Better Than One”. This is the opposite of avoiding. When collaborating, the individual works with the other person to find a win:win solution. It involves framing the issue so it can be solved, understanding the concerns or constraints each other face, and seeking a solution that addresses both sets of concerns.
This approach is best when the concerns of both parties are too important to be compromised, when both parties bring unique insights to the problem, when genuine commitment is needed to facilitate implementation of the solution, or when it is important to build a stronger interpersonal relationship.
Compromising – “Split The Difference”. The objective is to find an expedient and mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. This is a middle ground approach between competing and accommodating. It typically means each party loses something in order to move forward.
This approach makes sense when both parties are deeply passionate about their respective positions, when speed of a decision is important, or when you’ve tried either collaboration or competition and it failed.
Tips To Conflict Resolution
Minimize Emotions – Don’t try to resolve a conflict when people are angry. Take a time out and agree to regroup the next day.
Define the Conflict – Everybody needs to be on the same page with respect to the problem definition. A problem well stated is half solved. TQM uses a Problem Definition Sheet that you may find helpful.
Describe What Caused The Conflict – Understand the sequence of events to help find the root causes.
Describe The Feelings Raised By The Conflict – Honesty is critical and feelings do not have to be rational or justified, they simply are what they are.
Listen Carefully – Be respectful and don’t interrupt when the other person is sharing. Focus on understanding their point of view.
Brainstorm Solutions – Typically, there are many ways to a successful outcome, your way is not the only one. Be open to new ideas. Be willing to compromise and negotiate if required.
Try The Solution – Really commit to the Action Plan and do not directly or indirectly sabotage implementation. Be patient!
If The Solution Doesn’t Work, Try Another – Document both your results and learning. Then, brainstorm new solutions based on the new input. It is a game of continual improvement.
What is Your Experience?
We have all had to deal with conflict in our careers. What have you found that works, or doesn’t work? Share an example of a successful conflict resolution you either participated in or observed.
If you are working to lead a successful place branding initiative, you are going to run into conflict. How you handle it will have a direct impact on determining if your community can find its unique promise or not.
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