Conflicts are some of the most difficult communications situations. Should the communications go the wrong way, the result can be the long term destruction of personal relationships. Should the communications be constructive, the conflict situation can result in real progress. In every organization, conflict is natural. If you become good at working through conflict situations, you will be very valuable to your organization.
There are different communications approaches that people use to deal with conflict situations.
- Fight it out and let the strongest win and decide what to do. This is usually not a good communications strategy. The losers will most likely be resentful. Then, the conflict will just continue. The fight in this case probably won’t be a physical fight. But harsh words may be used. In many cases, the persons who have the more powerful positions in the organization will generally win the conflict.
- Ignore the conflict, and maybe it will go away. This communications strategy just avoids the conflict without resolving anything. The problem will most likely reappear if you use this approach. This strategy may be the most frustrating. The persons who need to deal with their differences never get together to work out their problems. Eventually the conflict will surface, and the problem will become much worse.
- Make a joke and hope that humor will reduce the conflict. This communications strategy also avoids the problem and makes the problem likely to reappear. But it also presents another problem.. The humor could be harmful to the situation. The other persons may think that you do not take the situation seriously or that you are making fun of them.
- Talk about the conflict and resolve the problem. This is the best communications approach to use. It is hard to do but it has the best results.
In the ideal case, the conflict will lead to a rational and reasoned resolution. In order for this to happen, there are a number of conditions that must be met to resolve conflict.
- The participants in the conflict agree that the present situation is not tolerable.
- The participants in the conflict are willing to discuss the conflict as a problem to be solved rather than as a personal confrontation.
- The participants in the conflict agree to follow a deliberate, objective conflict resolution process.
- The participants in the conflict agree to practice active listening and agree to consider the interests and needs of all participants and the organization they are a part of.
- Everyone involved in the conflict agrees to participate in the resolution process.
Even if the above conditions are met, the conflict won’t resolve itself. There needs to be a communications strategy in place to work from the conflict to a resolution.
- Bring together all of the participants.
- Ask the participants if they agree to the conditions for successful resolution of conflicts.
- Develop a list of objective statements that are background to the conflict that everyone can agree with.
- Develop a limited number of expectations for resolving the conflict. – What do people really want?
- Ask each participant to suggest a way to resolve the conflict. – Try to get these to be specific situations.
- Evaluate how each suggestion meets the expectations set out in step 4.
- Identify the suggestion preferred by most participants. – This will take some on going give and take.
- Modify this suggestion to meet the needs of all participants.
The key to this conflict strategy is to keep the tone of the communications at a civil level. Ultimately the resolution of the conflict needs to have a rational basis. Conflicts are not resolved when the participants felt bullied into a resolution.