Conflict management is the ability to keep disagreements from getting out of control. In life, we’re pretty much guaranteed to experience “conflict,” because people have different opinions on things and people will disagree. Conflict management is about how you can keep “conflict” from becoming “combat.”
The most common symptom of a lack of conflict management is the process of escalation. Escalation occurs when one person in a disagreement raises the stakes to a dangerous level and then makes a statement that can’t be easily withdrawn. This can be seen in a couple’s argument where one person declares a wish that they’ve never met, or in a work environment when an employee pushes the issue and gets fired. Escalation is the result of out-of-control emotional responses that push people to argue points they might not really believe.
Why Conflict Management Matters
Being able to manage conflict in healthy ways is central to being able to disagree without being disagreeable. Healthy conflict maintains collaboration, which builds understanding. And through understanding, you can establish increased safety and trust. In the workplace, this is associated with increased creativity and, ultimately, increased production.
It’s cliché that people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And one way to show that you care is to handle disputes and disagreements in healthy ways. This shows that you value the other person’s presence and contributions, and that you don’t take them for granted. When you demonstrate that you can disagree with someone without making it personal and without attacking the other person for things not related to the issue at hand, you’re demonstrating grace and mercy. And that is important to keeping relationships healthy over the long haul.
Managing Your Conflict in Healthy Ways
- Avoid negatively interpreting someone else’s actions and words. Don’t apply meaning that isn’t there, and don’t view the other person as a pain to avoid or a problem to solve.
- Remind yourself that conflict is an opportunity to grow.
- Before engaging in a conflicted discussion, make sure you have defined the issue. Identify if there is more than one issue involved, and try to identify core concerns of everyone involved.
- Determine the importance of an issue at the center of a conflict. If it’s not a highly important issue, ask yourself if it’s really worth the energy you’re investing in it. Sometimes, conflict can be managed by realigning your focus.
- Identify your contribution to the problem, and determine if you need to ask forgiveness or apologize. Conflict often festers because we are not aware of our own contributions to the dispute. And owning up to our own contributions goes a long way to keeping conflict from escalating out of control.
- Figure out what can be done differently by those involved. Agreement that there’s a problem is not a “solution,” but is the first step to finding a solution. Don’t stop partway through the process.