Indirect Approaches to Conflict Management

An indirect approach to managing conflict in the workplace may lead to better understanding and teamwork than head-to-head confrontation. When you begin by discovering traits within yourself, attributes you do not admire, and examine them long before conflict erupts, you can find yourself well on the way managing potential conflicts.

Identify Trigger Traits

Trigger traits are the traits you have that, when manifested in others, provoke your irritation. One simple technique is to write down the top three to five traits you dislike within yourself and label them as your conflict trigger points. When you encounter a situation that you find is leading toward conflict, ask yourself which of these traits is being exhibited by the person with whom you are in conflict. You may find the conflict begins to be defused when you identify the trigger trait.

Give Yourself a Moment

Staying calm and avoiding escalation to unbusinesslike behavior are imperative for managing conflict. You may not be able to manage others, but you are likely to be able to manage yourself. One technique for remaining calm is to provide a quiet moment for you. If the conflict is arising on the telephone, you may be able politely and gently place the call on hold. If the conflict is face to face, you may be able to step outside if only to offer and retrieve a glass of water for yourself and the other individual. Separating yourself from tension momentarily can give you an opportunity to breathe deeply, collect your thoughts, identify triggers and return with renewed perspective. If possible, move the site for the discussion to a private and neutral area.

Be Respectful of All Parties, Including Yourself

One technique for defusing another’s irrationality is to speak as though that person is reasonable, rational and calm. Try to use statements centered on “I” rather than “you” to remove blame from the conversation. Maintain eye contact. Nod to provide assurance that you are listening. Provide time for the person to vent. Avoid interrupting and avoid judging. Seek verification that you have accurately assimilated what the person has said. Ask the person to allow you to rephrase what they have said for your clarification. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid sarcasm at all costs. When the person has stated his case in full and you have obtained clarification, present your position and ask for verification that you have been heard. Speak of feelings and responses in the present if at all possible, or as close to the present as possible. Share acknowledgement of areas of agreement and disagreement.

Keep the Focus on Issues, Not People

Focus on actions. Ask how you and the person can fix the problem. When you are presented with a diversionary tactic such as a rant about yourself or others, return to the question of action that has potential for repairing the problem. Enlist the help of the other person and determine how you and she intend to support the positive action. If no support is offered, suggest a cooling-off period. If any behavior of the individual is in conflict with workplace procedures and policies, conclude the discussion and enlist the mediation of a third party such as a supervisor. Express thanks to the individual for willingness and effort toward resolution.