When two people cannot resolve a disagreement for themselves, they need a third person to get involved. And in the escalation from a friendly nudge up to the judicial system, mediation is the first formal step.
And, since conflict is common in organisations, it’s as well to understand what mediation can and cannot offer, when to use it, and how to make it effective.
Kenneth Thomas gained his BA from Pomona College in 1968, quickly becoming a research Fellow at Harvard for a year. He then started a PhD in Administrative Sciences at Purdue University, whilst holding a junior teaching position at University of California, Los Angeles. It was at UCLA, that Thomas met Ralph Kilmann, who joined the doctoral program.
Ken Thomas stayed at UCLA until 1977. He then went on to hold a series of academic appointments; Temple University (1977-81), University of Pittsburg (where Kilmann was then teaching) from 1981-6, and then the US Naval Postgraduate School. He retired from academic work in 2004.
Ralph Kilmann studied for his BS in Graphic Arts Management (graduated 1968) and his MS in Industrial Administration (1970) at Carnegie Mellon University. He then went to UCLA to study for a PhD in Behavioural Science. There, Kenneth Thomas was part of the faculty whilst himself working on a PhD.
Kilmann rapidly became interested in Thomas’ research into conflict and conflict modes. They shared a dissatisfaction with the methodology of Blake and Mouton’s version, though they liked the underlying styles and structure. Kilmann focused his studies on the methodologies for creating a robust assessment.
Publishing the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
Together, they published their work in 1974. Partly by luck and partly good judgement, they chose not to include their 30-question assessment inventory in the academic paper they published. Instead, they took it to a publisher, who made it a widely-used tool. It is still published by the successor (by acquisition) of that original publisher.
Over the years, they have worked with their publisher to use the vast data sets now available to increase the reliability of the instrument, and extend its use to multiple cultures.
The questionnaire has 30 pairs of statements, of equal social desirability, from which you would select one that best represents what you would do. It takes around 15 minutes to complete. It is not a psychometric and requires no qualification to administer and interpret. So, it can be readily used to support training and coaching interventions around conflict with groups and individuals.
The Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann are neither the first nor last to categorise your possible responses but, measured by popularity, they are by far the most successful. Like Jay Hall before them and Ron Kraybill later, their model looks at our responses on two axes.
The first axis is ‘Assertiveness’, or the extent to which we focus on our own agenda. The second is ‘Cooperation’, or our focus on our relationship with the other person.
The Five Conflict Modes
As with other models, there are five Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes.
A high degree of assertive behaviour, with little focus on the relationship, is referred to as Competing. In this mode, we seek to win above all else. It is a suitable style when success is vital, you know you are right, and there is a time pressure.
The opposite extreme is Accommodating. Highly cooperative and non-assertive behaviour is useful when you realise the other person is right, or when preserving the relationship or building emotional credit is foremost in your strategy.
When we want to invest little effort in the conflict, we use the Avoiding mode. With no effort deployed in either getting what we want or building a relationship, this is appropriate for trivial conflicts, or when we judge it is the wrong time to deal with the conflict. This may be due to hot tempers or a lack of sufficient preparation.
The good old 50-50 solution is Compromising. When you and I give up equal portions of our objectives, neither gets what we want, but it seems fair. Likewise, whilst our relationship is not optimised, neither is it much harmed. Compromise suits a wide range of scenarios.
What can be better than compromise? When the matter is sufficiently important, it is worth putting in the time and effort to really get what you want … and build your relationship at the same time. This is the Collaborating mode, sometimes called “win-win”. Reserve it for when the outcomes justify the investment it takes.
Critique of the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory
The Thomas Kilmann Instrument has its critics. Many users find the forced choice questionnaire frustrating – sometimes wanting to select both options; sometimes neither. There are also concerns about applying the examples to users’ real-world contexts. Unlike the Kraybill tool it lacks distinction between normal and stress conditions.
Accepting these weaknesses, the model finds a range of useful applications, even beyond conflict; in team development, change management and negotiation, to name three. Above all, consider it because most users value the insights it gives them.
John Grinder and Richard Bandler are credited as the co-founders of NLP. This is a basket of behavioural, therapeutic, and influencing techniques that comes in and out of fashion in the organisational world.
However, in the self-help world, its ups and downs are less pronounced – it has continually received accolades and steadily grown its influence.
So here then is the central dilemma of NLP for managers and professionals: how important is it? And therefore, how seriously do we need to take Bandler, Grinder, and their ideas of NLP?
John Grinder was born in 1940, and studied psychology at the University of San Francisco. After graduating with a BA, he joined the US Army as a Captain in a special forces unit. He then joined a US intelligence agency, before studying for a PhD in linguistics at The University of California, San Diego.
Grinder completed his PhD in 1971, and after a short time in George Miller’s lab at Rockefeller University, he joined UC Santa Cruz as an Assistant Professor in Linguistics. His research interest was the then very new and fashionable transformational grammar pioneered by Noam Chomsky.
In 1972, a psychology student called Richard Bandler came knocking, looking for help with a research project in which he was transcribing hours of Gestalt Therapy sessions. Bandler wanted help in analysing Fritz Perls’ language.
This was the start of a collaboration that led to the founding of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The story of their collaboration, and of the other people involved – it was far from a two-person endeavour – is well documented elsewhere. So too is the acrimonious breakdown of their working relationship, and the court actions over ownership of the NLP name and ‘brand’.
The upshot of this, by the way, is the court’s decision that NLP is a generic term and no one can own it. This meant that, after the split, Grinder could continue to develop his own new ideas, which he came to call ‘New Code’ NLP in contrast to the earlier work he did with Bandler, which he refers to as ‘Old Code’.
Grinder has authored many books with Bandler and others, and continues to teach NLP, through his own business (Quantum Leap) with his wife, and for other NLP schools.
Richard Bandler was born in 1950. His first few years were spent in New Jersey, before moving to California. He studied Philosophy and Psychology at US Santa Cruz, where he graduated in 1973.
There, Bandler met John Grinder and other early collaborators in developing what became NLP.
Bandler and Grinder became close colleagues studying and teaching the communication patterns of a number of therapists, like Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson. They gathered a number of other interested researchers and teachers around them.
Inevitably, as what they were teaching became more popular – and therefore more commercial – tensions arose. Like Grinder, Bandler formed his own business and continued to teach and develop new ideas. He too still teaches NLP, along with hypnotherapy, around the world.
Bandler and Grinder were co-authors of a number of the seminal books in the emerging subject of NLP. None are aimed at ‘lay’ readers. They are written for aspiring and experienced practitioners and, even having studied NLP and received Practitioner and Master Practitioner certificates, I find them barely readable.
There are many more modern books aimed at introducing NLP to interested readers. Browse your favourite book site and take your pick.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming: NLP
So, what is NLP? It stands for Neuro-linguistic Programming (yeah, I know), and it is fundamentally an assorted bag of methods and models designed to help understand communication and behaviours and elicit behavioural change.
At the root – and this is something Grinder constantly emphasises – is the idea of modelling. Whatever you want to be able to do, find an example of someone who does it to a level of excellence. Document everything they do, say, and think when they are doing it. Then try out being exactly like they are. Start to strip away elements, to find out what parts make no difference and which parts, when lost, become significant.
You’ll end up with a core of beliefs, behaviours, and communication patterns that materially affect your outcomes. Fritz Perls, Virginia Satir, and Milton Erikson were the first people extensively studied in that way.
From them, Bandler and Grinder extracted two of the biggest and most influential models within the NLP corpus: The Meta Model (from Satir and Perls) and The Milton Model (from Erikson).
The Meta Model
The Meta Model documents language patterns that allow the therapist, coach, salesperson (choose your role) to spot patterns of thinking in the other person. A long list of linguistic patters betray distorted perceptions, generalisations, and subconscious deletions of possibly relevant information. By challenging these, coaches and therapists can open up new possibilities to the person they are helping, and salespeople can breakdown objections to buying.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were The Structure of Magic, volumes 1 and 2.
The Milton Model
Milton Erikson was a masterful user of hypnosis in his therapy. Indeed, his style is sometimes called Eriksonian Hypnosis. Once again, Bandler and Grinder documented his language patterns. They found a similarity to the meta model, but that Erikson was being deliberately vague, to elicit gaps in thinking, through which he could insert therapeutic suggestions. The Milton model can help move a listener into a more receptive state. Again, this is useful to therapists, coaches and salespeople.
Bandler and Grinder’s primary books that originally documented this were Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D. volumes 1 and 2.
Evaluation of NLP
NLP is like Marmite: it evokes love and hate reactions in broadly equal measure. And its popularity goes through peaks and troughs – big ones for business, smaller troughs for the self-help industry. It is currently a multi-million dollar industry world-wide.
Three factors are perhaps responsible for the extreme views:
NLP is presented with a lot of complex and intimidating jargon. Indeed, the name Neuro Linguistic Programming suggests a level of mind-control which can intimidate or seduce. Some wonder if the jargon is merely designed to create a quasi-academic glamour the discipline does not deserve.
Some practitioners make extravagant claims for what NLP can achieve. Everything from magical sales efficacy to curing phobias, to curing serious mental and physical illnesses.
There is a limited research base. A lot of the evidence for the efficacy of NLP techniques is anecdotal, and many serous academic therapists have offered detailed critiques.
On the other hand, there are also three good reasons to learn more about NLP:
Many people find that much of it really does work. The ideas are taken from observations of effective behaviour. You can apply the modelling process to find out how to replicate the results of your best performers
NLP is respectful of our potential. It encourages personal responsibility and asserts that we can all access the resources we need to make the changes we want
The criticism that much of NLP is ‘just common sense’ can also be seen as a strength. By codifying common sense, we make it more accessible.
You can find much in NLP that is of value to you; and much that is not. If you are prepared to be selective and evaluate each tool on its merits, NLP is a powerful resource.
Here’s a video I did for another business that will echo much of what’s here.
While to the general public, The Art of the Deal may be the best known book on negotiation, to anyone who needs negotiation to be a sustainable part of your professional toolkit, the first and best book to start with has to be ‘Getting to Yes‘ by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Indeed, for any manager or professional, this has to be one of the dozen most important books you can read.
Negotiation is conflict conducted in a civilised manner. And what Fisher and Ury tell us is that you are always going to be more successful if you carry it out with strong moral principles. They set out four powerful principles. But it is, perhaps, their solution to one of the biggest problems that negotiators face, which is their biggest contribution to doing a good deal.
Roger Fisher was born in 1922, and graduated from Harvard College in 1943, just before the United States entered the War. Fisher flew meteorological reconnaissance planes and returned to civilian life to complete a law degree at Harvard.
He then spent some time in Paris working on the European post-war recovery Marshall Plan, before returning to the States to join a Washington law firm. There he had the chance to present cases to the Supreme Court.
In 1958, he returned to Harvard Law School as a member of faculty, being appointed professor in 1960. There, Fisher became increasingly interested in how people resolve disputes, having lost too many friends during the War. So, in 1979, he and Ury co-founded the Harvard Negotiation Project.
Fisher spent a lot of time working on some of the biggest negotiations in global politics, including the Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt, and in South Africa, as Apartheid was finally ending. When not travelling, mediating and advising, he continued to teach, both at Harvard and many other prestigious institutions, as well as writing articles and books. In 1984, he founded the Conflict Management Group, which later merged with the Mercy Corps.
In 1992, Fisher formally retired as Professor and became an emeritus professor, continuing to teach and write into his 80s. Roger Fisher died in 2012.
William Ury was born in 1953. He studied Social Anthropology at Yale and went on to research his PhD at Harvard. In 1997, Fisher happened to read Ury’s research paper on the Middle East peace negotiations, and was impressed. He sent a copy to the US Assistant Secretary of State leading the negotiations, and invited Ury to work with him. They were to have a long and fruitful working relationship.
Working together in the Harvard Negotiation Project that they co-founded allowed the two to help each other develop their thinking and the 1981 book, ‘Getting to Yes‘ encapsulated their thinking at the time. It rapidly became a best-seller and remains so today. Both have written numerous additional books since.
Ury set up the Nuclear Negotiation Project in 1982 and also worked as a mediator and negotiation advisor alongside his teaching. In 2007, he also founded Abraham’s Path, to start on the journey of lasting Middle East peace. You can hear him speak about it at TEDx below.
In ‘Getting to Yes‘, Fisher and Ury set out two overarching beliefs for Principled Negotiating:
Participants are problem solvers
The goal is a wise outcome reached efficiently and amicably
They also set out four essential principles that make negotiations as effective as possible; especially when both parties adhere to them:
Separate the people from the problem
Focus on interests, not positions
Invent options for mutual gain
Insist on using objective criteria
Perhaps the best known concept from the book is the idea of a BATNA – the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. If you aren’t able to reach agreement through the negotiation you are in now, what is the best alternative available to you?
That’s your BATNA.
If you cannot reach a deal in your negotiation that is better than your BATNA, then any deal you agree to represents an incremental loss. So you should, at that point, walk away.
Psychologists and, before them, philosophers have spent centuries trying to divide us into types. Whilst their attempts have had somewhat less of the hocus-pocus and downright prejudice to them than the racial typographies of some early ethnographers, many systems have advanced little beyond Hippocrates’ theory of four temperaments based on the bodily humours.
Rigour in Personality Testing
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that scientists had the statistical tools to analyse and understand personality with any rigour. Even so, the strongest, most widely used personality classification system – the so-called ‘Big Five’ Personality Factors – is still a matter of much research and debate as we reach approach the third decade of the twenty first century.
So perhaps the biggest change that the twentieth century wrought was not in reliability, but in accessibility and application. Personality assessment tools became widely popular and, through the second half of that century, widely used in workplaces to support selection, group development, team-building, personal development, marital counselling, and a range of other uses. Not all of the uses have been endorsed by the developers of these tools. And not all tools are widely supported by the more rigorously trained academic community of psychology.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
And so we come to Katherine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs-Myers. Their tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is very widely used. Every day, trainers and development professionals introduce it to new cohorts of staff and managers. These employees often take full self-evaluation questionnaire and are then told what this means about them and their colleagues.
The moments of insight are a joy to watch. The MBTI certainly seems to capture something of our personality, and explain something of our behaviours. But does it? This remarkably resilient and successful tool started through nothing less than a mother’s desire to understand her daughter’s choice of husband. What mother can’t empathise with that?
Katherine Cook Briggs
Katherine Cook was born in Michigan, in 1875 and was home schooled. Her father was an academic. She went to college to study agriculture and stayed on as a teacher and academic. She married prominent physicist and administrator, Lyman Briggs.
As her daughter grew up, Briggs became interested in children’s educational and social development. This led her to create a vocation test for children, which she thought could guide a child’s future well-being. This thinking focused on four personality types: meditative, spontaneous, executive, and sociable. These are still present among the wider set of 16 MBTI types.
Her quest was to find one unifying theory, and she considered ideas from many philosophers, scientists, and psychologists. Her own big breakthrough was when she discovered the work of Carl Jung. He advocated for four principal psychological functions by which we experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. This, along with our orientations to extroversion or introversion, give us the Jungian Personality Types, which Briggs and her daughter developed into their own type indicator model.
Isabel Briggs was born in 1897, and was home schooled by her mother. Following her mother’s discovery of Jung’s work, Briggs-Myers (now married) became interested in the work too, focusing on how character and personality influence the type of work we might thrive in. Together, they developed their framework and the questionnaire that goes with it. They began a long program of observation and discussion, refining their interpretation of Jung’s work.
During World War II, Briggs Myers wanted to help reduce conflict among people, but more pragmatically also to understand why some people hated their jobs in the military and others thrived.
It wasn’t until 1945 that they did some solid empirical research. With the help of Lyman Briggs, they ran their first MBTI assessment on around 5,500 George Washington Medical School students. Briggs Myers studied the results for years, searching for patterns among dropouts and successful students.
The Outcome of the Work
Briggs was the primary driving force and inspiration behind the creation of the MBTI from Jung’s original work. Briggs-Myers created the physical test itself, and did the work on validation and interpretation.
The result was one of the best-known and widely used personality tools, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Wikipedia reports that an estimated 50 million people have taken the MBTI. Whilst it is not widely endorsed by the academic community, and is based on largely desk-research and theorisation, rather than empirical trials, the MBTI remans popular. This is doubtless due to the ease of superficial understanding.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI
The MBTI classifies personality types along four pairs of categories. Briggs-Myers and Briggs claimed that we all fit into one of the 16 possible combinations of personality type, and that we have a dominant preference in each pair.
The Type Indicator is a test to assess which personality type offers the ‘best fit’ with the assertion that knowing your personality type that will help you succeed in life. The three original pairs of preferences from Jung’s typology (Extraversion and Introversion, Sensing and Intuition, Thinking and Feeling) are supplemented by a fourth pair (Judging and Perceiving), added by Briggs-Myers.
This is a phenomenally rich model and there are many excellent resources online. So here, we’ll only attempt a very superficial outline of the types.
Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
This axis refers to where where we get our energy from, and where we direct our attention. This can be on people and things in the outer world; extraversion. Or it can be on ourselves and our inner world; introversion.
Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
This axis refers to how we like to deal with information. People with a Sensing preference tend to focus on the basic information, whilst the Intuiting type prefers to interpret the information, and add meaning.
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
This axis refers to how we like to make decisions. Thinkers like to make objective decisions, using logic and rationality. The feeling style is more subjective, considering special circumstances, and how people feel.
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
This axis refers to how we like to dealt with experiences and circumstances. The judging style prefers to make a choice, and stick with it. The Perceiver likes to stay open to new information and options, and respond flexibly.
Assessment of the MBTI
The MBTI correlates poorly with more robustly researched psychological traits or types models, like the Big Five Personality factors. So why do so many people readily endorse their MBTI type? The answer, I think, lies in a combination of two factors.
Firstly, while not a strong correlation with rigorous typographies, it is derived from extensive observation and the factors that make up the MBTI undeniably exist – regardless of whether they are truly the ‘right’ fundamental elements of personality.
And secondly, we have our old friend, the Forer Effect. This is the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements are highly general and could apply to many people. If this sounds worrying, it is. The Forer Effect (sometimes known as the Barnum Effect (after showman and huckster PT Barnum) is also the basis of much mentalism and fraudulent cold reading.
The MBTI definitely has value as a personal and executive development tool. But if the trainers and specialists who deploy it do not make its limitations clear, they are doing your organisation a disservice.
This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
At some point in every manager’s daily life, you will be faced with the need to resolve conflict, either:
Conflict between two of your colleagues
Conflict between a colleague and someone else (a supplier, customer or distant colleague)
Conflict between a colleague and yourself
Two of the most valuable conflict management models have already been covered in the Management Pocketblog.
Exercise 1: Review Ellen Raider’s AEIOU Model
As a major figure in researching conflict, Morton Deutsch should be your first port of call. Read through the Pocketblog: Conflict: as simple as AEIOU. What are the direct lessons for you, from this blog?
Exercise 2: Review the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes
The most widely used model for understanding your choices when you approach conflict is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modes model, which you can read about in the Pocketblog: Is this Relationship going to Work? Look at the five modes and ask yourself which ones you tend to over-use and which you tend to under-use.
Exercise 3: Review the basics of Mediation
If you ever need to mediate between conflicts, then the Pocketblog: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right will help you grasp the basics of the role, setting out six basic steps. Which steps do you do well, naturally, and which do you tend to skimp on?
All of this reading back should allow you to start to form your own ideas about what makes for productive handling of conflict. For me, there are six elements. I will offer three tips under each.
Element 1: Attitudes
Respectful of differences: conflict arises out of differences – as soon as you respect those differences, conflict softens.
Open Mind: try to see the other person’s point of view and what matters most to them: Respect that.
People are not the problem – while behaviours may be unwelcome, distinguish the person from their attitudes, needs and behaviours.
Element 2: Discovery
What do you know already: inventory.
What do you not know: shopping list.
What are the causes: a step towards solutions.
Element 3: Core Skills
Listening: until you really hear, you cannot respect or discover the truth.
Language: clear, straightforward and respectful use of pronouns (‘I’ takes responsibility: ‘you’ sounds accusatory).
Calm: find ways to calm yourself so you can control your responses and remain objective.
Element 4: Strategies
Spot the signs of rising tension early: move in to defuse the conflict before it gets properly started.
Keep working: if you break contact, conflict will escalate in the gaps.
Welcome contributions: make all contributions welcome by inviting, acknowledging and valuing every effort the other person makes.
Element 5: Support
Ask for it: whenever you need it.
Offer it: whenever you can.
Match it: to the needs of the situation – is facilitation or mediation or arbitration the right approach?
Element 6: Cautions
Avoid the mindset of trying to ‘win’. Look instead for a resolution that both parties will value.
Right and wrong: are rarely appropriate categories – if they were, the conflict would be far easier to resolve.
Blame, punishment and retribution: have no role. In the film Papillon, Leon Darga says ‘blame is for god and small children.’
High-stakes conflicts of distribution of resources
Conflicts over relative power or place in a hierarchy
So, I will set the moral, resource and power stakes a little lower and talk about simple workplace conflicts; like ‘who moved my chair?’ or ‘why do you never wash up your coffee mugs?’.
Being able to resolve daily conflicts like these is an important workplace skill, and one that is often overlooked in schools, colleges and training for job-starters.
How bad will it get?
Morton Deutsch is considered by many as the founder of our modern theory and practice of conflict resolution. He wrote widely and The Resolution of Conflict is one of the most important books on the subject.
In it, Deutsch sets out seven factors that determine how well (constructively) or badly (destructively) the conflict will go:
The characteristics of the parties
… their values, aspirations, intellectual and social resource, attitudes to conflict, and power relationships
The prior relationship between them … including their attitudes, beliefs and expectations about each other, and the levels of trust
The nature of the issue causing the conflict
… its scope, flexibility, significance, expression
The social environment of the conflict … the encouragements and deterrents, social norms, mediating agents
The stakeholder to the conflict
… their relationships to the parties and to each other, their own interests and characteristics
The strategy and tactics employed by each party … their legitimacy or illegitimacy, the use of incentives such as promises of rewards or threats of punishment or coercion, openness and integrity of communication, commitment, what they appeal to
The consequences of the conflict to each party … and also to other stakeholders: gains and losses, precedence established, short- and long-term effects, reputational impacts
Émile Durkheim has to rank among the great names of social science and is, perhaps, the founding thinker in our modern ideas about social networks. He first distinguished between ‘traditional’ societies where individuals bow to pressures to subsume their individuality into a homogeneous whole; and more ‘modern’ societies where we seek to harness the diversity of people, by co-operation. Social phenomena, he argued, are the result of these interactions.
His contemporary, Ferdinand Tönnies, distinguished between ‘community’ and ‘society’. Communities share values and beliefs, whilst a society is tied together by formal links such as obligations, management and trade.
A third contemporary, Georg Simmel, first looked at the social distance between people and how this can affect our sense of individuality if we get too close to another person, or our sense of connection if we are too far.
It was Romanian-born American psychiatrist Jacob Moreno who gave us the tool that I want to focus on: the sociogram. He looked at how interactions occur in small groups, such as classrooms and workplaces. Sociograms are still widely used as a way of charting and understanding the relationships among groups of young people. Some of the earliest graphical depictions of social networks appear in his 1934 book Who Shall Survive?
Jump Sixty Years
Nowadays, we are all very familiar with the way the internet is widely connected and the concept of ‘small world’ networks is widely bandied about.
However, these diagrams derive from Moreno’s sociograms, which remain a powerful tool for charting workplace networks.
As a project manager, I have used sociograms to chart the relationships between stakeholders within and outside organisations, to better understand how I can anticipate and handle resistance to change, and how to harness and reinforce the support that I have.
Max Eggert and Wendy Falzon recommend using sociograms to anticipate conflict between co-workers.
In their Resolving Conflict Pocketbook, they give the example of a workgroup of five colleagues. They show how, by drawing a simple sociogram, you could anticipate which potential sub-teams could lead to conflict.
Conflict at work, whether between colleagues or with customers or suppliers, can sometimes end in a breakdown of the relationship. You have two options:
1. You can walk away
It’s safe, it’s easy, it’s a waste
2. You can try to fix it
It’s hard, it has the possibility of failure, it can turn disaster into triumph
Which course you take towards managing the end stage of conflict is up to you. Few would blame you if you were to walk away, but if you choose to try again, consider this: if the relationship has truly broken down, then you have little to lose, so everything to gain.
If you choose to try again, the Management Pocketblog offers you process that you can follow. The stronger the prior relationship, the better it can work.
Three Phases to Mending a Breakdown
Phase 1: Reality
If you decide to try to mend the relationship, the first phase is to understand what has happened. To do this, there are three steps:
Listen to each other
When you decide to mend the breakdown, take it upon yourself to listen to the other person.
Clarify the facts
How do each of you perceive the situation, and what would each of you most like to achieve?
Declare a breakdown
You must end this phase by recognising that a breakdown has occurred and that, whether there is fault or not, both parties have participated and, therefore, both of you must engage if you want to mend it.
Phase 2: Commitment
Building commitment needs an openness to the situation, and a positive statement of intent from both parties. Respect each other’s perceptions, and try to establish how the objective facts compare to these. Then offer your commitment to whatever you are prepared to do, to mend the relationship. When you have done that, ask what commitment the other person is prepared to make.
If your respective commitments complement each other, you have the basis for mending the relationship.
Phase 3: Progress
Now you are ready to make some progress. Typically, there are three things to put in place:
Work together to identify what information, processes, data, options, or solutions are missing, which you will need to mend the relationship fully.
Now make your plans for who will do what and when. Re-iterate promises to honour your respective allocated roles.
Follow-up with open and honest reviews of progress. Be generous in recognising what positive steps the other person has taken towards your goal.
So here’s the deal
Mending a broken relationship is not always possible. There must be a pre-existing strength to the relationship, and both parties must be eager to re-build. But if these foundations are in place, then it can be done. It may not be easy, but the results can be well worth the effort.
Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy
The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook has a range of valuable resources to help you understand and resolve conflict. It also has interesting sections on bullying and harassment, and team conflict.
And if this is not enough for you, there is more than a pocketful of extra help from other Management Pocketbooks:.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, working with people who aren’t our natural soul-mates. Whether the relationship is Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, or two colleagues sharing an office, conflict is probably going to arise at some point in the relationship.
Messrs Clegg and Cameron are both assertive and persuasive individuals who are used to winning the argument. But if they are going to work successfully together they will need to use a range of styles to manage potential conflict between themselves and their party members.
Five Approaches to Managing Conflict
Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann describe five approaches we can take to handling any particular conflict:
Compete – we aim to win.
Accommodate – our priority is to keep the other person happy.
Compromise – we do a deal. It’s not perfect but we can both live with it. At least in the short term.
Avoid – we take the view that it’s better not to open the can of worms, so we don’t address the issue.
Collaborate – we look for a solution that fully meets our needs, and also satisfies other person. A true ‘win/win’.
Which One To Use?
Looking at these five styles, you would think that the ‘right’ approach to conflict would always be to collaborate. However, there are a couple of problems with collaboration:
It can take a long time – you have to sit down, explore the other person’s position, analyse the underlying needs and concerns then try to thrash out a resolution. It’s great when you have the time (and the energy) to do this. But sometimes there’s a deadline. Sometimes the markets are showing signs of impatience.
It isn’t always possible. For example, when you and your colleague have fundamentally opposing views or values.
The trick is actually knowing which type of approach is most appropriate in any situation, and consciously adapting your natural preference for one of the five styles.
So here’s the deal
One of the secrets of handling conflict successfully, whether it’s in a shared office or the House of Commons, is choosing the right strategy.