Conflict management

Understanding conflict management styles

First published on Monday, Oct 30, 2023

Last updated on Friday, Oct 27, 2023

Conflicts and disagreements are inevitable in every workplace; handling conflicts is critical to becoming a successful leader.

Managing conflict is not easy, but it's possible with the right tools and strategies. You can try to reduce the likelihood of conflict arising in your business, but remember your employees will come from different walks of life with different opinions, values, and backgrounds. This means they will likely clash and disagree with each other from time to time.

It's your responsibility as their employer to de-escalate the situation and return the workplace to the status quo.

Your mission with conflict management should be to limit how often conflict arises, stop its negative impacts and use conflict resolution strategies to manage conflict and promote positive outcomes.

What is conflict management?

Conflict management refers to the strategies, tools, and methods used in managing conflicts and disagreements. It also includes correctly identifying and managing conflict fairly and sensibly for all parties involved.

As mentioned earlier, workplace conflicts are inevitable and will occur whether or not you are prepared and equipped to handle them. That's why it's important to understand conflicts and have the best conflict management skills at your disposal.

Conflict resolution also involves mastering conflict management styles and learning what conflict resolution tactic to apply in different situations

A group of people having an argument during a meeting

What are the most common conflict management styles?

There are five conflict management styles. You and your managers can use them in combination or individually, as one solution isn't always enough to work. So, in many cases, when managing conflict, you'll need to apply different methods from each style to manage conflicts effectively.

There may be no need to do in-depth conflict management training, but if you don't understand all five conflict management styles, you'll have little to no guidance on managing conflict.

The five conflict management styles

Understanding the five conflict management styles means you'll be better equipped to find creative ways to manage disputes. It's important to remember that applying these conflict management styles is a continuous process, which will involve practicing them often, developing your conflict resolution skills, coaching, and training.

Let's dive deeper into each style of conflict management.

1. Avoiding

An avoiding conflict management style ignores, bypasses or walks away from the problem rather than working to resolve it immediately. It can also involve removing the conflicting parties from a project or preventing them from continuing to work with each other.

This style of conflict management isn't always a good solution for workplace conflict but can be useful when one or all parties involved need a cool-down period. It can also be useful when there are other more important issues at hand, or the risks of tackling the issue head-on are more than the benefits of resolution.

It's best to use avoidance as a delaying tactic, not as the final solution. Failure to address conflicts only makes things worse, as it can build resentment. It can also make you seem incompetent and incapable of managing conflicts.

2. Accommodating

The accommodating conflict management style uses an understanding approach where one party backs down and lets the other "win" the dispute. Accommodating works best in situations where one party may not have strong opinions or care about the subject of their conflict as much as the other. It's also helpful when one or more of the people involved realize they're in the wrong.

Accommodating is about picking your battles, keeping the peace, and knowing where to focus your efforts to help reduce conflict.

Some people consider this style a weak approach because it is highly cooperative and may lead to your subordinates believing their manager is too accommodating and can be walked over. On the other hand, it's great for solving disagreements quickly and with low effort.

3. Compromising

Another way of resolving conflict is when the disagreeing parties choose to compromise, find common ground, and each gets a solution to their need. It involves looking at the issue from another person's point of view and finding a middle ground so nobody feels like they're losing anything by reaching an agreement.

Compromising is great when the conflict must be resolved quickly, there are time constraints, and managers need the disagreeing parties to work together.

In most cases, when conflicting employees compromise, no one leaves completely happy. It can lead to dissatisfaction, animosity, and employees feeling cheated.

Compromising is often referred to as a lose-lose situation since everyone has to give up something. This conflict management style shouldn't be used too often as employees might become unwilling to compromise over time.

4. Collaborating

The collaborative conflict management style is a win-win solution and produces the best results in the long term. It makes for effective conflict management as the manager considers the root cause of the issue, considers each person's needs and makes sure everyone leaves satisfied.

It often involves all parties sitting together to negotiate and better understand the other party's point of view.

While this method is great for problem-solving, it can be time-consuming and take a lot of effort as each person's point of view is examined and discussed. This can lead to losses in productivity, extended deadlines, and other time-sensitive delays.

5. Competing

This method of conflict management is often the most difficult to implement as the manager rejects collaboration or compromise. It's an assertive approach that involves fully standing your ground and not giving in to the other parties' wants.

It's not the best way to resolve conflicts, but it may be necessary in some instances, like when a manager needs to enforce an unpopular decision.

Competing is best used when a manager doesn't want to back down or when they want to emphasize their morals and ensure that employees take a specific course of action.

When there is no argument, it can significantly impact resolving the conflict quickly. But, this approach often doesn't sit well with employees as they don't feel heard, and it may damage their productivity levels and job satisfaction.

Group of people in a sessions to solve current workplace conflicts

Choosing a conflict management style

It's important to remember that we can't say one specific option is the best conflict management style.

A properly managed conflict borrows different skills and strategies from the five styles that will produce the best outcome for that situation.

Other ways to decide how to choose how to manage conflict include asking yourself the following questions:

  • Will solving the issue yield valuable results?
  • Is the issue trivial or serious?
  • Will there be legal consequences for not addressing the issue?
  • Does your business have the time to address the issue fully right now?
  • Are your own needs and wants most important?
  • Would you be OK if your needs are not met?
  • Do you value the other party involved?
  • What would be the consequences of using the other styles of conflict management?

Whatever answers you get can help you come up with the best solution for moving forward, whether it's putting in more effort with a collaborating style or ignoring the issue with an avoiding style of conflict resolution.

What are the three C's of conflict management?

Managing conflicts can be difficult, especially in the workplace. It requires emotional intelligence, mutual understanding, and active listening—amongst other skills. So, what are the 3 C's managers can use to build conflict management skills in managers?

1. Communication

Communication is vital in handling conflicts. Miscommunication or failure to communicate at all can be the root cause of conflicts or worsen existing conflicts. That's why it's very important for you to develop and establish clear, well-defined communication channels.

Open communication makes it easier for all disputing parties to share their worries, feelings, and points of view. You should also listen actively to what they share and make visible efforts to find the best solution to their issues.

2. Control

Maintaining control when dealing with conflict is important to avoid spiralling out of control.

Interpersonal conflict can make emotions run high, so keeping your cool will help the two parties with an issue do the same.

3. Commitment

Thinking of and implementing the best means to resolve conflict can be tiring and demanding. Resolving problems between two employees will involve dedicated time and effort from management and co-workers.

Starting the conflict resolution process and giving up mid-way will do more harm than good. All parties involved should commit to remaining civil, finding common ground, and working on different solutions to make sure similar problems do not arise in the future.

Two men reviewing solving their workplace conflict

Strategies for conflict resolution

Below are a few ways to handle conflict in the workplace you and your managers can adopt to help maintain a civil and conflict-free environment.

Acknowledge the problem

Although disagreements between your employees may seem trivial to you, it's important to acknowledge and immediately handle conflicts as soon as they're brought to your attention.

Doing this will help your employees feel heard and limit the negative aspects of conflict in your workplace.

Be calm

Seeing a manager react to conflict can be damaging to employees' morale and productivity. Remain calm and stay a neutral third party so it doesn't send the wrong message to the people involved.

Appearing impartial and unaffected will make it easier for the parties involved to start a dialogue with you and resolve the issue faster.

Investigate the origins and source of the conflict

Understanding the root cause of a problem is the best way to find a solution. Investigate and learn the true issue and what led to it becoming a serious problem.

It's often the most difficult part of conflict management, but it's great for problem-solving and helps prevent the issue from escalating to other departments.

Two people having a workplace conflict

Talk to both sides

Stay neutral and talk to both sides as you investigate the cause of conflict. Meet with each person in a private place so they can speak freely.

Showing you're a neutral third party will make each person comfortable with opening up and telling their side of what happened. This will help you get the full story and resolve the conflict fairly.

Try to find a common goal and agree on the solution

Before going in, set ground rules and make sure everyone understands you're working together to find a solution. Find a common goal that leaves everyone satisfied and let your employees see the benefits of agreeing to it.

Detail your employees' responsibilities and their role in resolving their issues so they all know what to do. If they're reluctant, you can assign duties and make sure they're carried out.

Evaluate your solutions

Conflict resolution doesn't end after meeting with the disagreeing staff and developing a solution. Eliminating conflict indefinitely takes time.

Follow up with each party and their manager to ensure the solution you came up with works. If it isn't working, it may be time to take measures like disciplinary action.

You can also revisit the issue with them and ask how much value your solution added. This can help you determine how much progress they've made and prevent future conflicts.

2 people shaking hands after resolving workplace conflict

Do you need help resolving conflicts?

It's important not to see disagreements as a sign of trouble in your business. While they can be challenging, viewing conflicts in your workplace as a learning opportunity is more productive.

Actively listen when your employees come to you with their issues, especially in interpersonal situations.

Ignoring them could destroy their trust in your business, damage workplace relationships, cause stress and make them less productive.

That's why effectively handling conflict and adopting preventative strategies can help maintain a positive workplace.

Managing conflict can be challenging, time-consuming, and stressful without support. BrightHR's 24/7 HR advice line BrightAdvice is manned by employment relations experts with years of experience, and is available round the clock to help employers deal with workplace conflict fairly and quickly.

Our library of checklists, templates and policies, BrightBase also provides comprehensive documentation to guide your conflict management process, like policies outlining the procedures for resolving disputes in the workplace.

And if you have a quick question on handling disputes, mediation or other conflict management queries, get instant answers to over 10,000 HR and health & safety questions through our AI-powered advice platform BrightLightning.

All answers on BrightLighting are written by Canadian employment relations experts with 30+ years of experience, so you can rest easy knowing you're getting accurate and up-to-date responses to your pressing questions.

Interested in learning more? Contact us at 18882204924 or book a demo today.

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