When you’re faced with a specifific situation, there are five things to do to assess the scenario at hand before taking action—understand your counterpart; identify the type of conflict you’re facing; consider the organizational context; determine your goal; and, finally, pick one of the four options you’ll take to deal with this particular situation.The first time you analyze a conflict using these five steps it will take some time, but eventually the analysis will get easier. The goal is to be able to quickly do these steps in your head whenever a disagreement arises. Find out right the third step - Identify the type of conflict.
Next, think about what’s causing the conflict. Review the four types of conflict and suss out whether your disagreement is over issues related to relationship, task, process, or status.
Go over what’s happened so far with your counterpart—what she’s said and done, who else has been involved, where the disagreement started, and what it’s related to. With all that information, ask yourself: Are we disagreeing about the goal of a project, or how to achieve it? Does my counterpart think she should be leading the initiative? Have we exchanged barbs? Or all of the above?
- Organize your own thoughts: In the midst of a conflict, rational thinking often goes out the window. Considering what type of conflict you’re having will help you set aside your emotional reactions and structure your thinking. If you decide to directly address the situation, parsing the conflict into categories will set you up for a successful conversation.
- Identify common ground: By labeling your differences of opinion, you’ll also see where you and your counterpart concur. If you disagree on how exactly to compensate a customer who received bad service (process), you may note that you agree on the need to make the customer happy (task). This shared goal becomes a foundation for reaching a resolution.
- Structure the conversation: Before you begin your discussion with your counterpart, create a list of the types of conflict you’re experiencing and the specific issues you disagree on. This will help guide your conversation and keep you focused on the issue at hand.
Be particularly careful when labeling a disagreement a “relationship conflict.” Many disagreements do end up here, but personalities are not always to blame, says Ben Dattner, author of The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure. “More often than not, the real underlying cause of workplace strife is the situation itself rather than the people involved.” What people think they’re fighting about isn’t actually what they are fighting about. For example, they might perceive the root cause of the struggle to be a personality clash when in fact it’s a process conflict.
Dattner explains: “Perhaps the conflict is due to someone on the team simply not doing her job, in which case talking about personality as being the cause of conflict is a dangerous distraction from the real issue. Focusing too much on either hypothetical or irrelevant causes of conflict may work in the short term, but it creates the risk over the long term that the underlying causes will never be addressed or fixed.”
You might be interested: Step 1: Understand Your Counterpart
You might be interested: Step 2: Consider your approach to conflict