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«CONFLICT MANAGEMENT IN THE WORKPLACE Some related titles from How to Books Conducting Staff Appraisals How to set up a review system that will ensure ...»

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Real life While it makes sense to follow the steps sequentially, a real life conversation is interactive, with people moving up and down and off the steps. The steps are designed so that whatever step you are on, you have access to all the other steps. A productive conversation may require you to go from step one to step three, back to two and so on. Staying on the steps and climbing back on will always be an option!

Ending a relationship can be an assertive option.

Language of the steps View the language given with each step as a suggestion. It may be useful to develop your own style and words while retaining the process.

Let the needs of the other person determine how long you spend on each step. People who come to terms with their problems by talking through their feelings and needing to feel understood, will appreciate delaying on the first two steps. Those who require solutions rather than understanding, will want to move quickly onto the problem-solving stages.

Use the ideas and examples from the previous chapters to help you with this. Paraphrasing can be used with any of the steps to ensure accuracy.

Different styles for different personalities.


Guarantee The tennis coach does not guarantee you will win your matches after you have had a series of tennis lessons. The coach provides you with more choices and flexibility in your game, increasing the possibility of winning.

Similarly, these steps do not guarantee a result … sometimes not only do the wants exclude each other but the needs also. You need space in a relationship, I need intimacy … compromise may be the only way forward. These steps increase your choices and hence your effectiveness in managing differences.

However, the tennis coach can make some guarantees. Hit the ball with a good top spin two feet above the net and the ball will never go over the end line. The guarantee with these steps is that you will manage your differences in open and honest ways without argument or conflict. If you slip into argument or conflict, you have slipped off the steps!

Review questions After you have used the steps you may wish to use one or more of these questions to achieve an even greater win-win.

‘How important is the issue to you 0-10?’ ‘How much do you feel I understand you 0-10?’ What do I need to do, so that you would feel I understand you even more?’ (If there is a low score.) ‘How much do you sense a willingness from me to meet your needs 0-10?’ ‘What do I need to do, so you would feel I was more willing to meet your needs?’ (If there is a low score.) ‘How good a solution is that for you 0-10?’ ‘How could it be an even better solution?’ (If there is a low score.)

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Chapter 8 Preventing Conflict

In this chapter:

N preventing conflict N the pitfalls of making assumptions and mind reading N deal with the small cracks before they erupt N see life through the eyes of the other N take responsibility for your needs.

Rather than wait for the crisis moment before you attend to your relationship, review it when everything is going well. After all, you get your car serviced even though it is running fine. You do this to prevent a breakdown. It’s better to visit the dentist for a check up before you get toothache. Grow the

relationship when the sun is shining! Take time out for the following:

Review the relationship.

N Agree what is going well and what isn’t.

N Discuss what matters most.


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Make quality time Making quality time for regular discussions can be the best way to clear up misunderstandings. With today’s hectic lifestyle it is probably best to set aside some time, which is convenient for both of you, and keep to it. Use the skills to check with each other, giving both of you talking and listening time.


Difficult people A lot of conflict arises simply because of the assumptions we make about others and the interpretations we put on the things said. Such conflicts could be defused by a few minutes of skilful and honest discussion.

Remember, if you find people difficult, they are likely to find you difficult too. You may want to explore and understand their intention before condemning their actions. Forgiveness is a decision and you may wish to ponder on the question ‘Who gains most if you forgive ?’ Talk sooner rather than later Avoid storing up resentment. As soon as you sense discomfort in the relationship, share your concern, even if the cause remains uncertain.

Pete is becoming increasingly uncommunicative. He comes home from work and wants to be left alone in front of the TV to unwind. Kate feels excluded. The longer she leaves off talking to him, the more the resentment is likely to grow.

I see you as wrong. You see me as wrong.

We are both right. That’s not logical but it is psychological.

Leave it for days or even weeks and Kate will have plenty to say to Pete.

‘You never talk to me any more. You take me for granted. All you ever do is work, watch TV and go out with your mates. You are turning out to be just like your father …’ and it is not likely to stop there!

Had she explained how she felt in the early stages, she wouldn’t have been nearly so angry or as willing to blame him. ‘Pete, I’m feeling distant from you and I am concerned.’

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warning signs and dealing with the minor incidents rather than wait till the full-blown crisis erupts.

Stay current Avoid broadening the issue by bringing up the past ‘You were just like that last Christmas …’ or mind-reading into the future ‘You’ll never change …’ Stay with the present and what you can change now. The past is the playing field of win-lose … the present is the field of understanding and collaboration. The here and now can be changed. Beware of wasting time fighting over what can never be changed.

Think solutions Offer a plan for improving things rather than merely complaining or venting your anger. Instead of smouldering because your partner comes home at different times each night and expects supper ready, voice your frustration. Explain that a call just before he leaves the office would solve this problem from your perspective and ask if this would work for him.

Change shoes Imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would it feel to be the other person at this moment relating to you, hearing what you are saying and seeing what you are doing? Swap roles in the argument. Try this in real life and invite your partner to do the same. You might get a laugh by viewing yourself from the other side … as well as improved understanding.

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Avoid the pitfalls Beware of personalising the problem. If you want help with the washing up, it is unlikely that ‘You never help with the washing up’ will make him spring into action. This is a quick way to start an ‘I do my share.’ ‘No you don’t.’ ‘Yes I do’ argument.


When you put other person in the ‘wrong’, the argument can go round in circles and even spirals.

Avoid quick jibes, ‘If you call that being together at breakfast, I’d rather you slept in!’ as she slams the kitchen door. Such parting shots can leave a lingering poisonous fallout. Avoid ending a session on a sour note.

If only Wanting the other person to change is a common ‘if only’ that most of us have said at some time in our lives.

‘If only he’d think first.’ ‘If only she’d stop sulking.’ ‘If only … if only.’ This attitude may put you in a passive, victim-like role. You are waiting for the other person to change, to make things all right for you. By sitting around in this passive way you could be waiting a long time for things to improve and you could also be putting your life on hold. The pro active approach is likely to give you more choices and gain respect from the other person.

–  –  –

Playing to the crowd Open arenas encourage playing to the crowd, taking sides and scoring points.

Audiences have their place at sporting events … in win-lose situations. They don’t belong in the arena of understanding. This is best achieved in private.

Name-calling Insults and name-calling can be baits, drawing you away from win-win.

To call someone a nagging bitch or a self-centred egotist is an attack likely to lead to retaliation rather than collaboration.

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Beware the victim mode People who whine and nag are less likely to have their real needs met than those who express them openly. Other people cannot read your mind, even though they might try. If you want something badly you may have to come out and ask for it. You may need to replace ‘Love is not having to ask’ with ‘If I need to feel loved I need to tell you how.’

–  –  –

Good luck!

Your relationships today may be where your thoughts and actions of the last few years have brought you. Your future relationships are being shaped by your thoughts and behaviours of today. What you choose to do today affects what you will have tomorrow. Today and now are the places to start. Good luck!

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Appendices Appendix 1 What’s Your Style?

Use this questionnaire to discover your preferences in managing conflict.

Imagine real conflict situations and think about how you tend to handle them. For each statement choose the response according to how often you tend to use that way of dealing with conflict.

Transfer your scores from each question onto the grid on page 116 and then total.

–  –  –


Treat your answers as a rough guide as there will be many variations on these three basic styles. It will be inaccurate to characterize anyone as having a single, rigid style for dealing with conflict. Each of us is capable of using all three styles and indeed, each of the styles will be useful in some situations. See Chapter 5 for a full explanation.

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Appendix 4 Group Conflict The more people involved in a conflict, the more complex it will be to meet everyone’s needs.

Complete a segment for each individual involved in the conflict and negotiate to an agreed solution, which is to be built from everyone’s needs.

–  –  –

Start from the point of agreement rather than the disagreement.

Appendix 5 Listen and Talk Listen Acceptingly 1 For the moment, put to one side your concerns, feelings and needs.

2 Listen for what is important to the other person N feelings – concerns – needs 3 Accept what the other person says as true for him N resist argument N suspend judgement 4 Sum up what you have heard every few sentances N So what you are saying is...

N What I am hearing is...

N Anything else you want to add?

5 You are not listening if you N justify – argue – advise – interrupt Talk Constructively 1 Talk about what you N are feeling N are concerned about N see as your real needs 2 Use ‘I’ language N I feel...

N My concerns are...

N What I need is...

3 Beware N accusation – You are always...

N blame – You make me feel...

N demand – You should...

Appendix 6 At a Glance Meeting Growing a Barrier Digging Yourself Into a Hole


The Wider Picture The higher you climb, the more you’ll see, the broader the perspective, the clearer the areas for agreement.

–  –  –

Appendix 7 Case Study As it was!

The problem Staff turnover had been above the company average for months. Locally there was little unemployment so recruiting was difficult at the best of times. Losing staff mattered.

Unable to avoid facing it any longer, the situation was broached at a consultative council meeting, a relatively new process. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the reality of workplace, as experienced by employees, burst out.

Was it surprising that people were leaving? The scathing language of rock bottom morale filled the room like an enormous driver’s airbag exploding on impact.

One representative, Sue, said staff on her shift felt undervalued for all the effort they were putting in. Dave described graphically how he had made numerous suggestions but had not been listened to by even one manager.

James and Alan both told of how it was common for their staff to be made to feel bad after getting things wrong, without ever being shown how to get it right in the first place.

So how come this depth of feeling had remained concealed for so long?

Well, why on earth would it come out if there was little hope of anyone taking notice? This, however, was an important first step… to acknowledge the problem, to ask some questions, “What’s happening?” “What’s life like for you out there?” And most importantly, to want to hear the answer, their answer.


All this sounds understandably important to people, so what is it they actually want?…. this part didn’t take long either….. “Some sort of recognition that we work damned hard would be a start”. “An environment in which we can express how we feel without the risk of being labelled as moaners or troublemakers”. “More flexibility by managers”. “We want to be involved in decisions that affect us”. “More scope for sharing ideas and concerns”. This all sounded reasonable, worryingly reasonable to Pat who was the relatively new senior manager chairing the meeting. ‘Worrying’ because these perfectly understandable wishes had seemingly been so elusive to these people. What was going on?

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