When you are managing a team or when you are heading your own company, you will always have situations where you will have to resolve conflicts. These conflicts may take place between employees, managers or just about anyone who may be working under you. The true sign of leadership is when you are able to deal with these conflicts and resolve them like a boss. In this article, let us understand what a conflict is, what it does to you, and the different kinds of conflicts that can occur.
In psychology, a conflict is said to occur when opposing choices are to be made, resulting in stress or some kind of dysfunction. These conflicts have been classified under approach-avoidance conflict, double approach conflict, and double avoidance conflict.
What is an approach-avoidance conflict?
In an approach-avoidance conflict, you are presented with a situation where you have two choices: one is a pleasant one and another is an unpleasant one. Usually, we tend to make the choice that brings a pleasant outcome. Yet, sometimes we may need to make unpleasant (avoidance) choices too, and this causes stress.
An example would be a scenario like this:
Jim was a manager who often found his team to be lacking discipline. They would talk amongst themselves and not finish work properly. He began to reprimand his team members to maintain discipline and engage in fruitful work. This did not work, and instead, animosity between him and his subordinates increased. He had the option of escalating the matter to his boss, or just choose to keep yelling at them. If he kept yelling at them, he would not have to face his boss and look like a person who cannot discipline his team. If he escalated the matter, he would continue to be viewed as that manager who complained about team members to the higher ups. The other option was to just keep yelling at the team members, who were anyway used to it, and it certainly seemed like the easier option.
Jim could choose between complaining to the boss (avoidance) and just keep yelling at the team members (approach). He chose the unpleasant choice, and the boss warned the whole team that their bonuses may be withheld if they didn’t perform according to requirements. As you can see, in an approach-avoidance scenario, taking an unpleasant approach may actually be beneficial and resolve conflicts. Jim’s team members soon forgot that it was he who complained to the boss, and even if they remembered, they could not do anything about it anyway. Thus, when given a choice between a pleasant and an unpleasant option to resolve conflicts, do not be afraid to take an unpleasant step if that seems like a more effective way to handle things.
What is a double approach conflict?
The next kind of stressful situation arises when there is a double approach conflict. A double approach conflict provides you with two appealing options, and you find it difficult to choose between the two as both are attractive. Let us assume Jim needs to solve an argument between Betty and Lisa, both of whom have been at loggerheads with each other over finalizing a design for a client’s logo. In Jim’s opinion, both the logo designs look great and he finds it difficult to choose between the two.
A double approach conflict usually leads to a favorable outcome but it can cause unpleasant feelings among those who are involved. In this case, either Lisa or Betty will feel bad about their design being rejected while the other’s being accepted. Remember this golden rule. You will never be able to make everyone happy.
In this case, Jim might do what most sensible managers do to resolve conflicts. He may ask all of his team members and other employees in the office to vote for the logo they like the best, in an anonymous manner. The chosen logo can be presented to the client, while the one that wasn’t chosen can still be appreciated for its inherent good qualities. While the employee whose logo was not selected will still feel bad, she will at least feel she lost in a democratic process.
What is a double avoidance conflict?
Sometimes, you will encounter the most difficult of situations. This has got something to do with choosing between two unpleasant choices. This is called a double avoidance conflict. In a double avoidance conflict, you will encounter two different unpleasant outcomes and you will have to choose between the two. No matter what you do, conflict will arise and will cause you stress. This kind of conflict is the most stressful and most people find it difficult to solve them. In this case, all you need to do is to choose the option that is least detrimental.
For this, you will need to make a list of pros and cons and weigh the advantages and the disadvantages of each choice. Choose the one that is least unpleasant. For example, Jim may find out that he has to either cut down funds to his team or make them stay back for a longer duration at work. It would not be possible to make employees stay back if it is stipulated so legally. Thus, he may have to release more funds to pay for overtime. Resolving conflicts requires you to know the different kinds of conflicts and which one causes the most stress. in most situations, it is not as simple as the situations given above. Usually things are a lot more complex, and people find it difficult to resolve conflicts.
The importance of personal qualities in conflict resolution
To solve all conflicts, certain personal characteristics are very important. First of all one needs to be patient. Without patience, you will not be able to understand two opposing views, and you may color your judgment with your emotions and biases. Secondly, you need to be objective. You need to look at opposing views objectively, and try to understand how to deal with those situations respectfully. Thirdly, you need to develop negotiation skills. You need to understand how to talk to people when they are arguing with each other, or with you.
All this requires a sense of assertiveness too. Assertiveness should not be confused with being aggressive. When you are assertive, you are really just communicating what you really want. This frank communication is what is known as assertiveness. When handling conflicts at work, you should learn to communicate with involved parties in a patient, empathic, objective and unbiased manner. This gives all parties involved confidence that you have what it takes to be a leader: impartial approach. Once you begin to tackle situations in this manner, handling conflicts becomes a lot easier.
What kind of conflict is taking place for all parties involved?
At the back of your mind, you must always consider what kind of conflict it is for each person involved. If it is a double avoidance conflict for you, and a double approach conflict for the other party involved, you should get in their shoes and understand what they may want too. In such a situation, you will have to choose an option that will make you least happy, as whatever you choose will make the other party happy anyway, and you can’t avoid pleasing them.
In another situation, you may find yourself dealing with a double avoidance conflict, while it is an approach-avoidance conflict for the other party. In such a situation, it is wiser to opt for the solution that is pleasant for the other party, as both choices are unpleasant for you anyway, but one of your decisions will make the other party happy.
In a different scenario, you may have a double approach conflict, while the other party has a double avoidance conflict. In this case, you need to consider the other party’s hopes and aspirations too, so that you can make a decision that is least troubling for them. There can be any number of permutations and combinations with these three basic conflict-drivers. The more the number of people and parties involved, there will be more combinations of conflict-types. All this will require you to learn more about conflict resolution, and take the approach from a psychological point of view.
Resolve conflicts like a pro
There are three kinds of conflicts: approach-avoidance conflicts, double approach conflicts, and double avoidance conflicts. All the three kinds of conflicts give rise to stress. There can be any number of permutations and combinations depending on the number of parties involved, with respect to conflict-types. Analyze which conflict-types are involved in a particular situation and wade through it tactfully so that you come across shining like a leader really must. Most importantly, develop personal skills that are important to resolve conflicts. These include patience, empathy, courage, being free from prejudices and biases, and being impartial. If you succeed to do all this, you will begin to handle conflicts like a pro.