I’ve just returned from a trip to Palestine and Israel, where conflict is omnipresent on a day-to-day basis. All around, there are signs of a conflict with a long history and for which the prospect of long-term resolution seems doubtful. It made me think about how we can solve small scale clashes before they become large scale conflicts in our daily business environment. So here is some food for thought on how to resolve conflict when it threatens to disrupt harmony in your working world.

Conflict is common and inevitable. We have all been through conflict situations. But anyone who has ever worked in a conflicting team will know how debilitating it can be for collaboration and the achievement of common goals. Wikipedia describes conflict as something that emanates from intentions or tendencies whose simultaneous realization is mutually exclusive. In other words: a state of disharmony is created when what we want to achieve is hindered by others who have opposing or incompatible views to our own.

How do conflicts arise at all?
Disagreements turn into conflicts when the relationship cannot tolerate the differences and begins to show emotional scratches, wounds or scars. It is normal that people’s perception and judgment differ; however, problems surface when we are no longer able to deal with each other in a respectful and complaisant way. If you are not able to open up with someone because you feel you are not being taken seriously or you feel betrayed, used or cheated on, then this is much more than just a different perspective or a controversy.

You are no longer in a position to talk about business without questioning the truth and genuineness of the relationship; and thus, the candor and sincerity of the other person. You start believing that the other person’s intent is on harming you, and the downward spiral is in full swing.

The conflict has started.

Four dimensions are involved in a conflict:

  1. Facts – What are the themes or topics?
  2. People – Who is affected or has stakes in the topic?
  3. Relationships – What are the connections between the people involved?
  4. Situational context – How do environmental conditions influence the conflict?

How can you become aware of a conflict before it escalates?
Conflicts develop and increase along a downward spiral that Friedrich Glasl – a recognized authority on methods of conflict resolution – illustrates as nine stages. He summarizes three stages to each level. Within the three levels (win-win, win-lose, lose-lose) the quality of the result of a conflict resolution is consistent. Glasl’s nine stages describe the hardening of the relationship of the parties involved that leads to a break-up and the inability to collaborate constructively and ends in the desire to destroy the other, accepting that it might cost one’s own existence.

How can conflict be pro-actively resolved?
This model helps catch visible symptoms and warning signs in good time. Relationships don’t deteriorate overnight, but over time in staggered phases. Each conflict has its own genesis. Here is what you can do about conflict resolution on each of the different levels:

  • Win-win level: Having a constructive dialogue with all parties involved will most likely solve the issue in a sustainable way. A neutral or external third party can facilitate this dialogue.
  • Win-lose level: A mediator needs to be hired to settle the differences amicably.
  • Lose-lose level: As the willingness to resolve the dispute and the detachment from the result are missing, mediation won’t work. Once the current conflict lessens, oil has been put on troubled water, and the interest to find a solution has increased, mediation becomes the right means to intervene to help move into the higher stages.

Remember: Without an injured relationship, there is no conflict.

Coaching can help you to

  • identify the optimal intervention for a conflict in your team by means of a diagnostic interview
  • hone the skills that are necessary to manage conflict, ambiguity and stress by assessing developmental areas and practicing these
  • reflect on your part in a controversial situation
  • strengthen and maintain business relationships using emotional intelligence techniques

Interested in learning more about your role in conflict resolution? Looking for solutions to an existing conflict in your own team? Contact me to find out if coaching is right for you.