This factsheet looks at different ways of dealing with conflict. It covers:
- Avoiding the build-up of conflict
- Different strategies for dealing with conflict
- How to collaborate
Avoiding the build-up of conflict
Conflict that is allowed to build up can become very stressful and upsetting for both parties. To prevent this from happening, try to deal with issues as soon as they arise. Ideally you can do this by speaking directly to the person involved (‘I noticed you seemed annoyed when I did that, is there anything you’d like to talk about?’). It may also be appropriate to bring the issue up at a meeting (‘I’ve noticed some teething problems in the way we deal with invoices at the moment’) or to speak to your manager or brigade captain.
Different strategies for dealing with conflict
Avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise and collaboration are the five usual ways of dealing with conflict.
- Avoidance is very commonly used, and involves avoiding the person or the situation involved in the conflict. This method isn't usually helpful as nothing is resolved, but it may be necessary if you feel too vulnerable to cope with the situation, e.g. it may be useful to take some time off work until you feel stronger.
- Accommodation is where you 'submit' to the conflict, e.g. by listening to unhelpful criticism and believing it. If you have low self-esteem you are more likely to use this method. Like avoidance, it is not a very successful method of resolving issues. It could be used if you know a solution is coming soon from an outside source.
- Competition is where the conflict becomes a 'fight', e.g. a brigade members tells your captain you've haven’t been following the rules, so you retaliate by telling your brigade captain that they've been stealing from the brigade. This can be useful with mild conflict, but it often leads to the conflict escalating. It also means you are lowering yourself to the other person's level.
- Compromise is where you work out a solution where you both 'give a little', e.g. if your brigade members wants help with their requirements, you offer to help them with half of it. This is a more useful strategy but it can leave both parties feeling a little disappointed.
- Collaboration is where you commit to working together to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to both of you - a 'win-win' situation. This method is explained in more detail below.
How to collaborate
Collaboration can feel risky as it involves being very clear about your needs and having an open conversation with the other person to try and understand their point of view. To collaborate successfully, you need to:
- Recognise that part of the responsibility for the conflict is your own. You may have avoided addressing the conflict earlier, or you may have reasons for your position that you haven’t been open about. Taking responsibility for this may encourage the other person to do the same.
- Learn how to manage yourself during the conversation, e.g. how to relax if you are likely to become angry, or how to be more assertive if you lack confidence. It might help to have a third person present for your conversation. Getting emotional during the conversation is unlikely to be helpful.
- Have belief in what you are saying. Make sure this comes across by maintaining eye contact, having positive body language and not sitting while the other person is standing.
- Try to focus on the behaviour and not on the person, e.g. ‘I find it difficult to concentrate when you talk loudly’ rather than ‘you’re such an awful gossip’.
- Try and find out why the other person feels the way they do – if you can understand each other’s reasons then you’ll be more likely to come up with a solution that suits both of you.
- Remember that people who enjoy creating conflict are often re-enacting difficulties from their lives previously – seeing their behaviour in this way may help you to be empathetic and will mean the conflict is more likely to be resolved.
- If you feel you are being bullied in any way, speak to your brigade captain, manager and/or HR Manager. You should also consult CFA’s relevant ‘equal opportunity’, ‘bullying’ or ‘fair conduct’ policies. Finally, try to get support from your friends and family.
Nobody enjoys conflict, but improving your conflict management skills will help you to stand up for your rights whilst helping other people get what they need, and will have benefits in both your professional and your personal life.
Difficult Conversations: What to Say in Tricky Situations Without Ruining the Relationship by Anne Dickson (Piatkus Books 2006)
A Survival Guide for Working with Humans: Dealing with Whiners, Back-stabbers, Know-it-alls and Other Difficult People by Gini Graham Scott (Amacom 2004)
Anger and Conflict in the Workplace: Spot the Signs, Avoid the Trauma by Lynne Falkin McClure (Impact Publications 2000)
From Conflict to Creativity: How Resolving Workplace Disagreements Can Inspire Innovation and Productivity by Sy Landau (Jossey Bass Wiley 2001)