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Conflict management and solving disputes

Updated: May 11, 2022

Two men in businesswear have on boxing gloves and are faced each other in a boxing ring, preparing to fight.

A disagreement arises as a marketing team debate over what images to use when campaigning their new product. Diane and Molly are committed to one point whereas Liam is adamantly opposed. The debate gets heated, voices are raised and Molly says to Liam “How could someone with your lack of sophistication understand anyway?” Liam strikes back with a similar cutting statement attacking Molly’s character.

Disagreements, such as this one, are all too common these days. Bombarded with “The people on the other side are idiots” messages, we find it increasingly difficult to separate the disagreement from the person themselves. Yet, having heated discussions about different viewpoints – while maintaining a good relationship – can encourage a healthy, collaborative work environment and stimulate innovation.

Research conducted at Harvard concluded that the first response a leader should have is to differentiate between “hot” and “cold” topics. Cold topics are those that do not trigger opposing beliefs or values. They revolve around fact-based methods, such as analyzing data, to reduce uncertainty and are of lower-stakes.

Contrastingly, hot topics are those which are underpinned by individual values or beliefs, uncertainties that can’t be reduced by analysing facts and are of higher stakes. Leaders and teams should be able to communicate effectively and share goals easily when dealing with cool topics. Hot topics however can be volatile and can easily disintegrate into personal attacks.

When a disagreement does descend into personal attacks, leaders often feel they have only two options: voice their own opinion at the risk of damaging relationships, or suppress their response. Neither tactic is effect, negative comments about another breaks trust in a group and remaining silent can back fire if negative comments are not dealt with appropriately.

Three ways to handle hot topics

The Harvard researchers have identified three strategies that leaders and team members can use to handle heated conflict in a team. Each strategy draws on the emotional intelligence of the people involved, particularly on three emotional intelligence competencies: emotional self-awareness, emotional self-control, and conflict management.

1. Manage self

Take notice of your own feelings, reflecting on your reactions, and reevaluate the situation. It is important to recognize the value of different perspectives on a team and use them to discover things you may not have noticed before.

2. Manage conversations

A good leader builds on the reflections each person has about their initial reaction. Take time to digest each moment in a discussion. If you can learn to take a pause before making a potentially contentious remark, you are more likely to find the right words to express your views without sounding defensive or on the attack.

3. Manage relationships

This is best done prior to addressing hot topics. Get to know your staff and encourage your staff to get to know each other. What are their goals and concerns? Establishing this will help everyone recognize their individual differences. Building open relationships helps to develop trust within teams. The researchers recommend that investing in relationships is the key for the success of the organization. Ideally, team members can monitor the quality of interactions during team discussions and intervene.

Conflict within work teams is bound to arise from time to time, it is how you respond to the situation which is important – these strategies can help you cool conflict when it does appear.

To know more about staff management and the impact of emotional intelligence on conflict management, Notting Hill College teaches a programme perfect for mastering the skills needed to manage personnel. Discover more about the Level 7 Diploma in Strategic Management.

Alternatively, if you are seeking to gain accredited qualifications to further your career in business and management, contact the educational support team at Notting Hill College.


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