Conflict and confrontation often occur together. Neither is very pleasant, but both are part of our working and home lives. These tips can be used for either scenario.
There are differing views on the best way to manage conflict, but there is consensus that each situation is different.
There are two situations where you may become involved in conflict and confrontation: either your own with other people, or a situation between two other parties. Occupational health practitioners must be careful when they find themselves in the latter situation, as OH must be seen as impartial and not as a management tool neither should OH act as the employee’s advocate. OH is there to advise management and employees on health matters, not to arbitrate in conflict. However, in both cases, it is best to deal with the situation swiftly so that it doesn’t get out of hand. This doesn’t necessarily mean immediately, as sometimes it is prudent to allow a short cooling off period.
Few people are able to admit they may be wrong, and both parties will believe they are the ones being constructive. Take time to reflect objectively on your own arguments, views and ability to be open to disparate ideas. If you gain some insight that you are about to be confronted by someone, find out what it is about to give yourself a chance to gather the facts (and your thoughts) and run through what you are going to say in your mind. Take some deep breaths and, if possible, go to the other person, rather than letting them come to you – it can disarm them a little.
If the person is aggressive, ask why they are so combative – this is not about the subject, it is about delivery. If the situation does not calm down, tell the person you cannot have a rational discussion with them now, and you will meet them when they are calmer.
Avoid getting sucked into their argument this will only distract from the root cause. State the facts, underpinning them with sound reasoning. Quite often, people who are angry or upset don’t hear what you are saying, so you may need to repeat yourself in several different ways before you can be sure they have heard you. Always remain calm you will undermine yourself if you become emotional.
There are several different ways of handling these situations:
This is only really applicable if it is clear that the conflict is not worth the effort to resolve. However, this can lead to the issue escalating and requiring greater effort in the future, so it is rarely a favourable option. It tends to be a lose-lose situation.
Put simply, this is agreeing to something just to keep the peace – compromising your views. This is a lose-win strategy, and will often result in you becoming resentful and unsatisfied in the long run.
This is a ‘meeting in the middle’, having found a solution which satisfies, to a greater extent, the needs of both parties. It is often the best solution when either time is short or total agreement is impossible.
This is still a lose-lose strategy, and the issue may need to be addressed again later. But if both parties have compromised, they will each gain something from this method.
This method is usually utilised by people in a position of power, taking advantage of the weakness of the other party’s position. There is little listening, discussion or information-sharing.
This is a win-lose strategy, where either party can be the winner or the loser. Not an approach to be taken often, but it may be used when extremely difficult decisions need to be taken.
In this model, the parties accept there is a conflict, take time to discuss the root causes, discuss different solutions, and identify the drivers and inhibitors to a resolution. Each member has a higher buy-in and therefore acceptance of the solution.
The downsides are that collaboration takes longer (but the resolution should be more sustainable). It requires each party to be open and honest and able to prioritise and satisfy their own and the other party’s needs.
Start by identifying the areas you agree on this will build a bridge and a solid foundation to move on to the more contentious areas. And, a big one, avoid personalising the argument – it’s about issues, not personalities.
Finally, engaging in the resolution process arising out of conflict and confrontation can be a very positive experience. Some of the most creative ideas and solutions to situations arise out of conflict – but only if it is managed well.
Originally published in November 2007 and last updated 2 February 2019