Management & Organization

Conflict management

You might find yourself in front of a coworker or an executive. He or she talks about a conflict at work that consumes everyone's energy and promotes long-term absence of illness. Stress, ilness, loss of energy, frustration, depression, powerlessness, etc. are often the result of a conflict that hasn't been dealt with due time. To prevent this you should know of how to manage conflicts before everything goes wrong. You can ask yourself the following:

  • What can you do?
  • Are you able to solve the conflict?
  • Can you mediate between parties?
  • Can you offer advice?
  • What is conflicts and conflict management really about?

Below you can read about various techniques, systems, models and mindsets that may bring you closer to an overview and an insight in conflict management.

  • Types of conflict
  • The conflict stairway
  • Giraffe language
  • Appreciative inquiry
  • Mediation

Types of conflict

Conflicts and solutions
In order for a conflict to be resolved, both cause and relation must be dealt with. There should be an agreeement all parties can live with, and the relationship between them, must be defused and become more clear, perhaps even more friendly. Only then, is the solution sustainable.

Not all conflicts are equally sensitive. Yet the different types of conflict are often entangled.

  • Some conflicts are “pure” and not yet “polluted” by emotions, personifications, blaming etc. They are based on dispute. What should you do in this kind of situation? Who needs to do what? How should the assignment be solved?

  • Other conflicts are about interests and resources. The competition over resources. Who gets what? The children are fighting over the toys. Adults have conflicts about work hours, training programmes, salary, etc.

  • Personal values can lead to other types of conflict. What is right and what is wrong? What is important? What is possible and what isn't?

  • Personal conflicts are about emotions. Often hidden and deep emotions. Do I dare to trust this person? Am I part of the group? Does she care about me?

When you're able to identify the type of conflict, it is easier to find a possible solution. If you don't try to find a solution, the conflict can escalate in various steps, which the conflict stairway shows below.

The conflict stairway – when the conflict escalates

The conflict stairway shows the course of a conflict if you neglect to repair the relationship that has been damaged.

 

Divergence
On this step the conflict is barely a conflict. The parties finds it interesting to exchange points of view and are able to gain something from listening to one another. Person and cause are still possible to separate.

Personification
Now both parties of the conflict feel that they in spite of good will are incapable of ignoring the fact that the other person is incompetent, cruel, etc. The conflict is now personal (or group related). Perhaps they still speak about the cause, but this now operates as a pretext for addressing the bad attributes of the counterpart.

The problem grows
On this step the parties are no longer interested in understanding each other. What concerns them is how to find holes and weaknesses in the counterparts’ arguments and probably find their own argument to checkmate the other (at least in their own view. There is also the possibility of the counterpart not accepting to be the one that is checkmate). Therefore, there is no actual development in the discussion, and when it ends both parties are located the exact same place as they have been all along. They have at best discovered certain weaknesses in their own arguments that they will try to cover up in the future.

Conversation is abandoned
The parties avoid each other and seeks allies. At this time one of the parties decides to act and do what he/she thinks is reasonable (you could for instance exploit the other person's absence, vacation, etc.). When that person finds out about this, he/she will get angry.

Demonization
The initial problem is forgotten. The good are separated from the bad, and because of this anger the neglected party gradually creates a demonization of the counterpart, who then rapidly follows up with a similar demonization. Both attempts to win over neutral parties, who are at risk of being asked to choose sides. When the parties each describes the process, their descriptions now begin to vary heavily from one another. Now we aim for the man instead of the ball.

Either the demonization is empowered to such a degree that one of the parties get carried away or one of the parties arranges a situation that humiliates the other (this could for instance happen by performing an argument that may be hard to prove but also humiliates the counterpart in front of third parties). He, who looses self-control, risks becoming a scapegoat or being sidetracked.

Open hostility
At one point one of the parties turns to threats. It is often he/she who feels humiliated. The goal is to hurt the opponent. This could be through a written warning (“On behalf of… it is stressed that…”) or bitter words (“It will have consequences”).

Now, both parties find it necessary to let action follow words and give show that they are being serious, and that they possess the required strength to effectuate the proposed threats. Now the war escalates with the purpose of making the counterpart incapacitated with fewest possible costs for one self. This is conducted with the same bitter rationality and professionalism as a “real” war. It is about paralyzing the counterpart’s nerve center and about pulling evil up by its roots, according to both parties.

Polarization
On this last step the parties are so bitter that they don't care about themselves as long as they can inflict the counterpart new pain and suffering. The war is no longer fought in a “professional” manner. This is the kamikaze stage where there is no room for both parties. The conflict is unsolvable and the parties are only able to move on by becoming geographically separated.

Now you generally know the phases of conflict and you have a better possibility of solving the conflict if you intervene as early as possible. One of the methods you can use to conflict manage is Giraffe language ®.

Giraffe language ®

Nonviolent communication, also known as “Giraffe language®”, is more than a method of communication. It't also a process that helps practicing and developing our empathy. This way, we can connect with with each other in a way that lets both our needs and the needs of others be met voluntary and joyfully.

Giraffe language ® help us become more happy and satisfied and understand and have a deeper connection between people. It becomes easier to handle stress, conflicts, misunderstandings, condemning, exhaustion and depression in a different way. Giraffe language ® can be applied to preventing and solving conflicts in both personal and work-related contexts. Giraffe language ® can contribute to a clearer dialogue, better collaboration and openness between people. The Giraffe language ® method is used in education, social, health, legal and business areas along with international peace mediation. As such, there is help to be gained from this method when it comes to conflict managing.

The giraffe and the wolf
The giraffe and the wolf are chosen as symbols of two separate ways of talking.

Wolf language symbolizes the criticizing, demanding, blaming and condemning way of facilitating ones statements. Wolf language contains more words for describing what is right and wrong, what is wrong with others and whose fault it is. We see wolf language as a tragic, counterproductive expression of feelings and needs, because the wolf language seldom promotes anything but aversion from others.

The giraffe language®, on the other hand, symbolizes the language of the heart. I stay on my own half of the playing field and honestly explain how I feel and what I would like, without criticizing and demanding. Meanwhile, I listen to others with empathy. The giraffe language makes it possible to express yourself and listen to others in an open and trusting way.

The model
The purpose is: Honestly express how you feel – without blaming or criticizing. And also clearly request the things that would make my life richer without demanding. This is specifically done by submitting these four points:

  1. The specific occurrences I observe (see, hear, remember, imagine) that contributes (or does not contribute) to my well-being.
  2. What I feel in relation to these actions.
  3. The life energy in the needs and values that create my emotions.
  4. The specific actions I would like for others to take.

Based on the model, a request in Giraffe language could sound like this:

  1. When you say “No, do like this” when I am at the board,
  2. I become sad and give up,
  3. Because I need respect and understanding of the fact that it takes time for me to learn this.
  4. That is why I would like for you to not talk until I ask.

These 4 “steps” are used both  when you are talking and when you are listening to another person.

Appreciative inquiry

Success stories and stories of failure have a special power. They contain the key to self-fulfilling prophecies. We make the stories real. If you successfully solved a conflict once, why not dig deep into the story and understand the secret behind this success, so that you can repeat it again and again.

Appreciative inquiry is an organizational development theory that is, first of all, build on the assumption that in every organization and with every employee there are success stories, and in these stories there is great potential for development.

Secondly, development is created by experience, and by starting with your most positive experiences, the road to development is shorter. The challenge is to make these things visible and active within the organization.

A third assumption is that we cannot separate examination and changes. When we begin an examination, we will at the same time initiate the process of change. Appreciative inquiry focusses on what works in the organization. By thoroughly studying the organization and the single employee's successes you'll find out when and how the organization and the employees performs at their best, and, not least, what makes a success.

From this, you can develop the organization when it's at its best, and not on count of problems when it goes through a hard time. When you've studied the successes thoroughly, findi out where you want the organization to move, so that you can create the desired future together.

Regarding conflict management, appreciative inquiry thus tells you to pay attention to what is happening when you're solving a conflict in a good way.

Think about how the circumstances were when you handled them, and how you can possibly use this knowledge in a future conflict.

Mediation

Two leader have a fall out. They are on the same executive team, but between them is cold air and they are working against each other. You are the boss, and the conflict is starting to manifest in both departments. The employees are starting to copy the conflict.

You could consider mediation
When you find yourself in a conflict, you typically don't trust in those you are in dispute with. Perhaps you've almost lost faith in the possibility of solving the conflict. In these kind of situations mediation can be a possible solution. The mediator is impartial and helps the parties find common ground and ways out of the conflict. Mediation is a meeting between two or more people in a conflict and an outside person that makes sure that both the things you disagree about and the consequences these may have are talked about.

Parties find the solutions themselves
Mediation is something entirely different than law, where it is often about being right and winning against the counterpart. Instead, you seek, through dialogue, to find what's the cause of the conflict, so that the parties understanding each other’s reasons and see their own share of the conflict. The mediator does not judge what is right or wrong in the conflict and makes no decisions, but instead, helps the parties find the solution themselves.

Mediation is a way to manage conflicts where a neutral third-party through a structured process helps the warring parties finding a satisfying solution themselves. It is voluntary for the parties to participate, and what happens before, during and after the meeting is classified. This way of handling conflicts has many names. Besides mediation and conflict management it is called court mediation, conflict advisory, etc. The foundation is the voluntariness of the parties and the active participation in finding your own solutions to the conflict.

The mediator normally does not come up with suggestions for solutions and makes no decisions, but instead functions solely as a process-leader. The parties can back out at any time, if they don't want to continue.

Mediation can be executed both as actual meetings, where the parties get together with an impartial mediator, and as indirect mediation, where the mediator holds separate meetings with each party and delivers messages between them by agreement. All conflicts between people are initially suited for mediation. However, there are people who do not possess the required ability or will to try to put himself in the position of his counterpart, and here mediation is not suited as a method of conflict management.

The process of the meeting
A mediation process can proceed in different ways according to the working of the mediator. The following is a typical meeting process:

The mediator greets the two parties, explains what is going to happen and repeats that it is voluntary to participate. Confidentiality is agreed upon, along with rules for the meeting, with the most important being that the parties accepts listening to each other and do not interrupt the counterpart when he or she speaks.

When the parties has accepted the rules, they each share their experience of the conflict. These stories can go on for a long time, and the mediator supports the parties in expressing what they have experienced, which needs and interests they have and how to understand each other.

When the parties have told each other all that is important to each of them and has nothing to add, they proceed to the next step of the mediation process, where they agree upon what are the most important problems to solve.

Then, both parties offers solutions to the conflict. This happens through the brainstorming method where the parties suggests all kinds of ideas which the mediator then writes down without processing them. When there are no more ideas, the parties assess the different suggestions and negotiate solutions that they both find acceptable and realistic.

At the end, the two parties can make a written agreement. Both parties are handed a copy of the agreement, and the mediator finishes the meeting by thanking the parties for their effort in getting to a specific solution that both feels comfortable with.

A mediation meeting can take a few hours, a whole day or be split into several meetings.