Conflict management is important in many areas of life. From personal relationships to workplace relationships, conflict inevitably arises from time to time. But how do you manage conflict when you hate confrontation?
Why Confrontation Fills Us With Dread
For many of us, the thought of confronting someone else fills us with dread. So we put those difficult conversations off until it’s the ‘right time,’ or we completely avoid them. What puts you off confronting someone?
The potential that you’ll be met with anger or downright hostility?
The fear you’ll be unable to control your own emotions?
The uncertainty around how what you say will be received?
All of these make conflict management feel difficult and uncomfortable.
The Negative Effects of Avoiding Conflict
Think about something you’re scared of to the extent that you avoid it. Say you’re afraid of public speaking. When you get asked to do it at an event, you decide you absolutely can’t and you say you’re sick. You’ll feel temporarily relieved that you avoided the anxiety of public speaking. But in the longer term, what you’ve really done is you’ve made yourself feel even less capable. You’ll probably berate yourself for not being able to do it and the fear of public speaking will still be there.
When you avoid conflict, it’s the same thing. You might avoid anxiety temporarily and convince yourself that you’re keeping the peace by not saying anything. However, not bringing up the issue only allows resentment and hostility to build up which does not make for a harmonious workplace.
Types of Conflict
There are five main types of conflict: power struggle, emotional, relational, informational, and functional. The good news is that these types of conflict aren’t mutually exclusive. Instead, they overlap and interact with each other. Understanding the type of conflict you’re experiencing helps you figure out the best way to resolve it.
If you don’t handle these situations well, they can affect your relationships, career growth, and even your health.
In order to become better at conflict management and minimise conflict altogether, we must first understand it. We also need to understand how people interact.
In today’s fast-paced world, employees often find themselves working long hours under stressful conditions. This environment is a breeding ground for stress and frustration, which can cause conflicts among co-workers.
Add in things like the cost of living crisis at the moment and the pressures of the last few years and you can see why conflict becomes more likely.
The Most Common Causes Of Conflict
Recognising the signs of conflict early on is essential when it comes to preventing it. Here are some of the most common causes of conflict:
Unclear Responsibilities- When someone feels like they do too much work without being properly compensated, there can be resentment. You might even see duplication of effort, where one person finishes a task while another watches over them. Often responsibilities become blurred and you can see people stepping on each other’s toes.
Blame and Frustration Due to Duplicated Work or Unfinished Tasks- When someone is frustrated about something that hasn’t been completed, blame can easily arise. Sometimes, the best way to resolve issues is to finish what needs to be done. Another issue that can arise is when people are demanding that several tasks be completed, thus putting pressure on. This is made worse if priorities aren’t clarified by the manager. Then people feel pulled in different directions.
Competition for Resources- Employees compete for limited resources such as time, money, materials, and equipment. They may feel like they don’t have enough support or training, which causes friction.
Thinking you don’t need to give your team members training is the quickest way to make them feel like you don’t value them.
When you know that certain resources are limited, you can plan accordingly. For example, if you know you are running low on a particular material, you can replace it ahead of time rather than waiting for it to run out.
With resources like staffing, it is important to take active steps. Upskilling other team members to flip people onto areas where there are blockages can help. Looking at churn rates and long-term recruitment plans can make a huge difference and gives employees the reassurance that you have your finger on the pulse of the business.
Five Ways to Better Conflict Management
Here are my top tips on how to manage conflict better, even when you hate confrontation.
Before we get into the tips though, the first thing to do is check your mindset.
Most of us are brought up to think of confrontation as a bad thing. However, when it’s handled properly, it’s far healthier to confront issues than trying to bury them.
Instead of thinking of confrontation or conflict as something that will end up in a screaming match, think of it like this:
- A conversation with someone else where you display respectful radical honesty;
- A negotiation, where you collaborate with someone to get the best outcome.
With that in mind, here’s how to do conflict better.
- Identify the source of the conflict
What was the trigger? Was it intentional or unintentional? How did it happen? Once you’ve identified the source, you can start resolving the conflict.
It’s a good idea at this point to write down some key points about how you feel about the issue. Be specific, and think about getting your points across rather than worrying about how the other person will receive them.
As you’re writing things down, you’ll feel better that you have more clarity on what’s causing the conflict. Though you might still feel uncomfortable having the conversation, keep in mind that it’s better for you in the longer term. It’s the only way to kill resentment and get your needs met.
- Never attack a person
This is conflict management 101. It is so easy to cause distress and arguments if you accuse people. It is natural to go on the defensive if attacked. Instead of falling into unhelpful patterns, use ‘I’ statements and own your feelings. Remember to breathe and slow down.
Instead of saying “ You’re always late and you never meet deadlines,” say something like “ I feel frustrated when you come in late and don’t meet deadlines as this causes problems for me and the team. It would help if I could understand why you are often late and you’re missing deadlines. Do you need any extra support?” You can see how this might get a much better response than accusing someone.
- Be honest
Take responsibility for anything you might have done. For example, is the person missing deadlines because you’ve given them too much to do or not given clear instructions? Admitting your mistakes builds trust.
- Focus on solutions
Instead of focusing on who’s wrong, focus on finding a solution. For example, if someone has hurt feelings, ask questions such as “What would you like me to do?” or “How can I fix this?”. Approach confrontations like a collaboration rather than a competition.
- Avoid escalation
If you get into an argument, stop talking immediately. Escalation happens when you continue arguing after you’ve already said something negative. Give yourself and the other person space to calm down.
A Word On How You Think About Conflict Management
Whenever you have to confront someone, however it goes, cut yourself some slack. Reflect on the things you did well. Maybe you were able to stay calm in the face of someone being hostile. Maybe you put the conversation at the top of your to-do list rather than allowing it to hang over your head. Good conflict management is not about trying to change someone else’s mind or behaviour. Those things you can never control. But you can control how you conduct yourself.
Need Help With Managing Conflict In Your Team?
Need to confront that negative or disruptive team member? Is a conversation with that manager who intimidates you long overdue?
If you know you need to have a difficult conversation but you just can’t seem to find the confidence to do it, you need help.
Download my FREE coaching guide to difficult conversations, or if you need more in-depth and targeted support, book a call to find out more about my Making Difficult Conversations Easier programme for managers and leaders.