Avoidance. Stress. Opportunity.
These are three words that attendees at our September 14th “Strategies for Managing Conflict” event shared as their first association with the idea of conflict. Conflict is unavoidable in personal relationships, even (and maybe especially) at work. Trainer Signe Bishop, a Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Oregon Health & Science University, worked with attendees on how to productively approach and respond to conflict. Thanks to OHSU for hosting the event.
Conflict occurs when we perceive that our values, needs, or identity are being challenged or undermined. Using the ideas of fight, flight, or freeze, Bishop led the program with a discussion of biological responses to conflict. When people enter a conflict, they might have certain triggers and responses that can make people upset and escalate the conflict. Triggers might include interruptions, being ignored, or people raising their voice. Responses to triggers might include physical reactions like a red face, trembling voice, or nausea; people might also shut down and try to withdraw from the conflict. Two people will see a conflict as starting at different times and view it through different lenses. Having an understanding of how those triggers and responses show up for people can lead people to have more empathy in a conflict situation.
Bishop introduced 5 strategies for engaging in conflict, which should be deployed at different times - determining which strategy to use is based on how important the issue is and how important the relationship with the other person is. These 5 strategies are:
Compete: competing is a useful strategy when a quick decisive action is needed, perhaps on important issues for which unpopular courses of action are needed. Competing means assertively championing a position, relying on logic and facts to pursue that position, and pressing to get a position understood even if that might be unpopular.
Collaborate: best when both parties’ concerns are too important to be compromised. This requires merging insights from people with different perspectives, valuing consensus, and taking the time to work through hard feelings that surround a decision. Collaboration is also best when buy-in is required from all the stakeholders in a situation.
Compromise: best when both parties’ goals are relatively important but not worth the risk of a competitive approach or the time required for a collaborative approach. Compromise may also be a back-up method for competition or collaboration, and is useful when a temporary or expedient decision is needed.
Avoid: this is best when the potential damage of confrontation outweighs the benefits of resolution, or when the issue is too trivial to escalate into a conflict. Avoidance can also be useful if people need to take time away from the conflict to gather more information or regain perspective and composure.
Accommodate: best when preserving harmony and avoiding disruption are primary goals, accommodation is also advised when one realizes one is wrong or when the issue is much more important to the other person.
Other resources shared by Bishop include:
Getting to Yes (book)
Conversational Capacity (book)
Dare to Disagree (TED Talk)
Searching for “conflict” via Harvard Business Review