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Manage conflict in the workplace

Sunday, January 12, 2014
Business Eye

We cannot choose to wake up one morning and live in a world that is peaceful, and I am speaking about a world where no conflict exists.  However, we can choose the way we react to conflict when it arises. In 2012 when I was studying a course titled Certified Leadership and Talent Management with the Workplace Coach Institute, I was exposed to few assessments.  One I found particularly interesting was Conflict Dynamic Profile (CDP).


The CDP is an assessment instrument, which was developed by The Centre for Conflict Dynamics at Eckerd College.  It is based upon the Dynamic Conflict Model (see below) and is used by managers and employees to help prevent harmful conflict in the workplace.­­­­ The CDP has a total of 99 questions, of which 66 deal with behaviour and 36 are about hot buttons. Hot Buttons are really situations or people who irritate you enough to make you react negatively.  



The questionnaire is easy to use, and it takes between 20 to 25 minutes to complete. This assessment can be used for employees at all levels and is applicable for small, medium and large organisations within any industry.  Companies that recognise managing conflicts in the workplace will benefit tremendously. Outlined below are some of these benefits.


The benefits of effective conflict management:
1. Reduce costs—by making better business decisions, and implementing initiatives more effectively which will achieve better return on investment.
2. Increase productivity—when conflict is at a minimal in the workplace, there will be a reduction in absenteeism and “presenteeism.” Decision making will be improved, and it will foster an environment of creative innovation.
3. Retain your top performers—supervisory and peer relationships will be strengthened, teams will be more engaged, and open communicating will give your people the power to make a positive difference.
4. Manage risk—violence, sabotage and vandalism can be prevented; reduce legal risks and increase the perception of your organisation’s brand.


Therefore, managers/executives must embrace conflict management as part of developing and training their employees.  This will empower their staff so that they become aware that they can choose to respond to conflict either constructively or destructively. Roger Fisher and William Ury, in the best-selling book “Getting To Yes,” state that we must “separate the people from the problem.” Once we can do this, we can de-escalate rather than escalate the conflict.


The Centre for Conflict Dynamics defined conflict as “any situation in which people have apparently incompatible goals, interest, principles or feelings.” Conflict then, is inevitable in the workplace, as we work among people with different goals, interests, principles and emotions. Managers and employees, therefore, must be aware of how they respond during a conflict.  By taking the CDP assessment, they will be given a report on their constructive responses, destructive responses and, of course, what their “hot buttons” are.




Let me now briefly outline these according to the CDP:



Constructive Response Profile
Seven ways of responding to conflict that have the effect of reducing conflict:
1. Perspective taking—putting yourself in the other person’s position and trying to understand that person’s point of view.
2. Creating solutions—brainstorming with the other person, asking questions, and trying to create solutions to the problem.
3. Expressing emotions—talking honestly with the other person and expressing your thoughts and feelings.
4. Reaching out—reaching out to the other person, making the first move, and trying to make amends.
5. Reflective thinking—analysing the situation, weighing the pros and cons, and thinking about the best response.
6. Delay responding—waiting things out, letting matters settle down, or taking a “time out” when emotions are running high.
7. Adapting—staying flexible and trying to make the best of the situation.


Destructive Response Profile
Eight ways of responding to conflict that have the effect of escalating conflict:
1. Winning at all costs—arguing vigorously for your own position and trying to win at all costs.
2. Displaying anger—expressing anger, raising your voice, and using harsh, angry words.
3. Demeaning others—laughing at the other person, ridiculing the other’s ideas, and using sarcasm.
4. Retaliating—obstructing the other person, retaliating against the other, and trying to get revenge.
5. Avoiding—avoiding or ignoring the other person, and acting distant and aloof.
6. Yielding—giving in to the other person in order to avoid further conflict.
7. Hiding emotions—concealing your true emotions even though feeling upset.
8. Self-criticising—replaying the incident over in your mind and criticising yourself for not handling it better.



Once our responses to conflict have been established, it becomes easy to determine the areas for development. A coach can then work with the person to assist him/her in completing their action plan, which will guide the coaching sessions.  One must remember that change begins with you and me.


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