Keeping Conflict to a Minimum

Most people do what makes sense to them, regardless of their impact on others. When one person’s behavior is not understood or accepted by another, conflict ensues. The conflict can be overt or covert. If managed well—without negativity or inappropriate displays of anger—relationships, as well as positive results, can be sustained, and even improved. Unfortunately, too often the opposite occurs. It is time to stop the cycle of act and react, and find better solutions to differences. Before focusing on solutions, it is important to first understand conflict in more detail.

Two types of conflict
      Covert conflict occurs when people have differences, but do not discuss them openly, and manifests in two ways: avoiding and ignoring. Covert conflict creates internal stress, resulting in feelings of discomfort and anxiety, which can reveal themselves physically through medical conditions, such as ulcers.
       Avoiding conflict is similar to hiding your head in the sand, thinking and hoping that the issue will go away or be resolved on its own. These thoughts are often subconscious. Ignoring is making a conscious decision to not deal with the matter. This can be positive or negative, depending on your intention. If ignoring is a result of not majoring on the minors, that can be a positive and mature response. It can also be the result of choosing to “let this one go,” wanting to make certain a real problem exists that should be addressed, such as a negative behavior pattern.
      Overt conflict takes place when people openly disagree and choose to confront one another. This transpires as a result of different perspectives, expectations, beliefs, values and sometimes varying information. When a person decides to face an issue head-on with someone else, that choice should be made with full consideration of the possible—and even probable—types of responses that likely will be received from the other person., the most common of which are competitiveness, compromise and negotiation. You should anticipate and prepare for those possibilities, and identify the appropriate response to each.
      Overt conflict is preferable to covert conflict, since it is not possible to resolve covert conflict, which is like an undiagnosed disease that usually gets worse if left untreated.
       Following are just a few ways that spas can help team members prevent and resolve conflicts.

      Utilize personality assessment tools. This can help spas make better hiring decisions. Personality assessment tools increase and improve the understanding of different communication styles, as well as how to converse most effectively with a variety of people. Some conflicts can be prevented with this knowledge. A person usually is either a direct or indirect communicator. Direct communicators utilize more bottom line talk. Indirect communicators use more qualifiers, which often soften what the individual is saying. This difference alone can result in misunderstandings and conflicts. To a direct communicator, someone who says “it seems that”—a qualifying phrase—is wishy-washy and not able to get to the point, while to an indirect communicator, “it is” can come across as close-minded and brusque. Understanding differences such as these, and communicating effectively based on those differences, improves productivity and results.

       Create an environment that welcomes diversity. Conflict often arises due to an increase in diversity without an encouragement to understand and accept the differences that occur because of it. Diversity in and of itself is neither positive nor negative; however, it becomes constructive when the differences create opportunities for individuals, companies, the marketplace and society as a whole. When they create unresolved conflicts between people, the opportunities are usually lost.

      Make sure there is role clarity. Too many disagreements occur because managers fail to provide team members with information related to their job responsibilities and the company in general. Who is accountable for what becomes even more important to identify in an environment of teamwork and project work. Although teamwork is becoming more prevalent and necessary, too often team decision-making results in a lack of role clarity. Also, with most people having more responsibilities than they can easily manage, it is imperative that priorities and deadlines become obvious to all.

      Commit to conflict management. Discuss conflict on a general level so that team members understand that change and opportunity always involve conflict. Make sure people understand that managing it effectively is a company expectation. Treat team members as equals and expect them to solve their own problems. When an employee complains to a manager about another team member, the manager’s first question should be, “Have you discussed your concern with them?” Supervisors should function as coaches and be resources for assisting employees in dealing with their own conflicts.

      Implement a communication model for handling conflicts. Many problems can be diffused by effective communication. Follow these three steps in order to handle disagreements effectively.

1. Focus on the desired outcome of the interaction. This will usually include the hope that the relationship be maintained, and, with any luck, improved.
2. Ask more questions and make fewer statements. This will help foster understanding.
3. Use the dominant communication style of the other person—direct or indirect—even if it is not your usual style.

      The model is simple, but it is not effortless. It is much easier to just start talking without thinking about the desired outcome. However, focusing first on understanding the other person’s position often makes yours heard and accepted more openly.

Effective management
      Given increased change, ambiguity and stress, more conflict should be expected, both covert and overt. Understanding different personality styles, communicating effectively with a variety of people and utilizing the three-step communication model are good strategies for managing differences. When understood and controlled effectively, results and relationships will improve.

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