“The skills required for conflict management are simple, but they rarely are acquired as part of growing up. Learn them and use them” (Mayer, 1990, 58).
The first arena is conceptual: an individual must understand conflict’s causes, styles, strategies, tactics, and world-views. An individual must understand theories of how and why conflicts arise, where and when conflicts habitually occur, and the range of strategies and tactics that may be utilised to manage conflict.
In addition to understanding communication and conflict theory, an individual must become competent in a variety of basic communication skills and develop a working repertoire of conflict management skills.
A lengthy of abilities and tactics can be specified for advanced conflict management. However, two basic communication skills are required if parties hope to manage conflict productively:
- Asking questions
Individuals new to conflict management should work first to enhance basic communication skills.
Wilmot & Hocker (2001) suggest some basic skills for conflict managers. More advanced assessment tools follow these basic skills.
1. Speak your mind and heart. Someone needs to speak up and say what he or she wants, thinks or feels. However obvious this point seems, the expression of conflict often is bogged down because someone is afraid to articulate needs clearly. Difficulty in expressing preferences directly may result in indirect, passive or aggressive communication .Instead of blaming, switching topics or avoiding, make sure you address the problem as the issue. Speak up!
2. Listen well. By this time, you are aware that listening is a skill that underlies all productive conflict management. Focus on what the other person is saying, not your denial. Search for what might be right about what you hear instead of what is wrong and let the other know you are doing this. Give some feedback that indicates that the other has been heard. You might say, “I am interested about your idea about taking six months off. I’m concerned about how I will cover your job, but tell me more.” Remember that any sentence beginning with “Yes, but . . .” eliminates anything you are going to say next.
3. Express strong feelings appropriately. In conflict, you will have very strong feelings at times. You will be angry, hurt, enraged, sad, joyful, hopeful or despairing. Careful, respectful expression of these feelings helps, rather than damages, conflicts. Avoid crushing your feelings; just learn to express them clearly in a non-destructive manner. Never attack, for any reason, if you want a long-term relationship!
4. Remain rational for as long as possible. Remaining rational does not mean staying calm, cool, collected or distant. Rationality means keeping in mind that you are trying to solve a problem and that you must remain connected to the other person throughout the interaction. Anything that diverts you from this task hurts conflict management. Summarise and ask questions.
5. Review what has been said. Ask about points that need clarification, using open-ended questions. Specialise in asking questions for which you do not know the answer.
6. Learn to give and take. Be fair by taking your turn and giving others their turns. No productive resolution comes from a one-sided conversation. You may solve a short-term problem; but in the long term, fairness counts.
7. Avoid all harmful statements. Attacks create enemies. Biting criticism drives people out of the interaction. Making the other person wrong means reducing the chance that you will ever make anything right. As medical doctors are taught by the Hippocratic oath, “Do no harm.”
How can we help-
On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.