Best Practices for Effective Conflict Management
Conflicts include differences of opinion and perceptions at all levels of interaction including supervision, shared work and living spaces, teaching and learning. When conflicts affect the ability to work productively, learn effectively, or live in a comfortable environment, they need to be addressed. The following are some best practices that can contribute to effective conflict management. As with most conflict management skills, these practices are common sense but can be challenging to put into practice.
As an individual:
- Address conflict early to prevent it from escalating.
- Discuss the issue directly with the person(s) involved.
- Communicate with respect. For assistance with an effective conversation, ask a supervisor, HR representative, or other UI resources for support.
- Seek to learn and understand the other point(s) of view.
- Address perceptions and assumptions.
- Listen to understand the interests of the other party, and not just their position on the matter in dispute.
- Focus on the issue, not the person.
- Find ways to move past your differences; agree where you can find common ground and agree to disagree if necessary.
- Focus on the present and future, and be willing to put the past behind you. (See Recovery from Conflict.)
As a colleague or co-worker:
- Encourage parties in conflict to address each other early and directly.
- Encourage the parties to focus on common interests and work to resolve their differences in order to move forward.
- Direct colleagues and co-workers who are in conflict to UI resources. Taking sides will not help resolve the conflict.
- Do not be drawn into conflicts in which you are not a party.
- Do not escalate the conflict by giving it undue attention.
- Treat both parties in conflict with respect.
As a supervisor dealing with colleague or co-worker conflict:
- Practice the individual conflict management skills listed above, and encourage others in conflict to do so as well.
- Manage the environment to support conflict resolution.
- Be aware of the effects of power differences on conflict management. Be alert to worries about retaliation.
- Use UI resources to assist in facilitating conflict management so that it does not interfere with productivity or the well-being of the unit or department.
The Conflict Description Template may be useful for supervisors in understanding a conflict situation and discussing it with others.
In any conflict, issues of confidentiality should be considered.
Effective Conflict Management Thinking
|We cannot change the past.||We can act to help make the situation better now and in the future through shared agreements.||We can use conflict constructively as a source of different ideas and perspectives.|
Conversations to Resolve Conflict: Pre-conversation, During the Conversation, Post-conversation
These guidelines are designed to help individuals prepare for conversations to resolve conflict.
- Choose to discuss the problem directly, one on one.
- Act sooner rather than later. Problems not acted on tend to fester, take up energy needed for work and family, and may affect personal well-being.
- Decide what you would like to achieve in this conversation, e.g. clarification, behavior change, mending of the relationship, etc.
- Invite the other person to participate in a conversation.
- Plan the logistics of a meeting, including when, where, who should participate, etc.
During the conversation: Act
- Seek assistance from UI resources if you need it.
- Make known your goals for the conversation.
- Discuss confidentiality.
- Use Respectful Communication so that each person will continue to participate and not leave, go silent, raise their voice or be defensive.
- Listen intently for the other’s perspective. Active Listening skills are especially useful in conflict conversations.
- Be aware of and try to understand your own and the other person’s feelings.
- Discuss perceptions and assumptions.
- Address the past as necessary.
- Focus on the problem, not the person. Address the problem instead of being defensive.
- Look for areas of agreement--your common ground—and build on those.
- Agree on what you both can do in the future and leave the rest.
Post-conversation: Implement and Move Forward
- Act with integrity to maintain your shared agreements.
- Recognize that change is difficult and sometimes we make mistakes as we change. Notice positive behaviors.
- Let go of past hard feelings and look for ways to work together productively, e.g. use common personal greetings, say thanks when appropriate, acknowledge and show appreciation for changed behavior, repeat common ideas and goals, etc. If you are having difficulty, visit Recovery from Conflict for further ideas to help you now and in the future.
updated December 8, 2010