The Leadership Profile (LP) helps identify a leader’s default conflict resolution style.
If you watch any workplace sitcom, from Brooklyn-9-9 to Veep, dramatic and comedic tension is built around how co-workers thrive on conflict. How our favorite (and most despised) characters resolve conflict on screen can range from realistic to ridiculous situations that are both cringe-worthy and laugh-out-loud funny because they hit close to home. Conflict in the workplace takes many shapes and sizes. Conflict is simply defined as a differing opinion. It is not always as emotionally charged as we may believe. Conflict management and resolution are daily occurrences at work and can either propel or disrupt work momentum for a leader, a team or the entire organization (Forbes).
Resolving conflict is an important skill for all leaders and managers when relating to supervisors, peers and those they manage. Using the right approach to manage conflict within a team is important to develop healthy working relationships and a happy workplace. TalentClick’s Leadership Profile (LP) categorizes 5 types of conflict management styles based on the work of M.A. Rahim (1983):
Personality tends to fuel one conflict management style over another in everyone, however, we also have different styles when we are dealing with supervisors, peers or direct reports. A great leader is also willing to learn when, where and how to use each style depending on the type of conflict. There is no right or wrong style but there are upsides and downsides for all in every situation.
Definition: Works to find a ‘win-win’ solution where both parties reach their objectives. This style takes a great deal of time and skill to assess the needs (not wants) of each party and come together to form a brand new idea. Collaborating is considered the best style to address the task needs and preserve relationships.
Where these leaders thrive: These leaders thrive when they can take the time to step back and work out a situation. For example, two conflicting parties working toward a similar goal are able to assess what they both need to get done and come up with a new solution together. Like a marketing manager and sales manager who both want to grow new leads. They are both assessing two different target markets but they only have enough resources to look at one. When they step back, they determine the overlapping qualities in each of their targets to create a better third option where they both benefit.
Where they have potential challenges: Challenges may arise in a time-sensitive situation when there isn’t enough bandwidth to be creative. For example, when an event is happening next week and you disagree with the talent options your coordinator has provided you, instead of working with them to make a better choice, you have to choose one.
Definition: Resolves conflict by ‘giving in’ and letting the other party have its way. This style is used when the relationship is more important than the outcome of the conflict.
Where these leaders thrive: If a subordinate or apprentice is working on a project that does not impact the big picture, as the leader you may have more experience and be 90% sure your method to complete the task is more efficient, and only 75% sure in their method. For example, a carpenter’s apprentice working on the framing of a room. If you allow the apprentice to take their approach they are motivated and empowered to complete the task.
Where they have potential challenges: This style will let a leader down in any high risk or safety situation. For example, losing a big client, or risking employee injury. If the apprentice’s framing method could cause wooden beams to fall from the third floor of a building onto workers below, the leader is responsible for removing the risk from the situation. Obliging would not be appropriate in this case.
Definition: Resolves conflict by directing the other party to accept his/her position. This style is used when the outcome is more important than the relationship.
Where these leaders thrive: As a leader, this dominating tactic is best used when resolving conflict where budget, safety, and due process are determining factors. For example, in law enforcement when pursuing a suspect and there is no time to debate what to do, the senior officer will determine the action to take to prevent the situation from escalating.
Where they have potential challenges: A dominating style does not work when a supervisor is trying to empower or motivate someone in a low consequence situation. By dominating in these situations, the leader can be seen as micromanaging the employee if the way in which the task is completed does not affect the outcome. If you never give an employee, such as the junior officer, a chance to make their own decisions, they may struggle to grow in the role.
Definition: Choses to avoid conflict rather than face it directly. This style is best used when the issue is trivial, and the outcome and relationship are not important.
Where these leaders thrive: These leaders understand that in a weekly meeting with a group of peers that engage in catch up and chit chat that delay the meeting by 5 minutes each week is a conflict worth avoiding. The meetings are effective, productive and it’s only 5 minutes a week. So the conflict doesn’t affect the outcome, and this leader may be the only one feeling like that 5 minutes was a waste of time.
Where they have potential challenges: This style will let a leader down when they need to step into a situation where conflict is necessary. Whether it be to face a disgruntled employee or make a decision about the way a task is completed if a leader maintains avoidance, they may be seen as poor communicators and employees may be unclear about what needs to happen. This can be seen when there is a sudden change in management.
Definition: Resolves conflict by ‘meeting in the middle’ where both parties lower their demand. This may work well when parties are equally powerful and consensus cannot be reached. Compromising happens without necessarily digging into the needs and interests of either party.
Where these leaders thrive: This style is best used when the conflicting parties are equally powerful and there is an inflexible variable. To reach a compromise, both parties must give something up to reach a solution. For example, one party needs a project done in one week, but the party doing the work needs three weeks to complete. The two parties compromise by agreeing on a deadline of two weeks. Compromising is also good for temporary solutions while a longer-term solution is sorted out.
Where they have potential challenges: This style will let a leader down when the problem is too complex, or where the risk of compromising could leave the project unfinished. For example, a company is launching a new product and needs to determine a comprehensive Go To Market strategy. One employee may believe a comprehensive tradeshow push is what they need, while another employee believes in the power of digital marketing channels, but there is only the budget to do one well. When they spend half on each method, both may fail and no one gets their desired result.
All of us lean towards one or two most natural styles of conflict resolutions but can learn where and when each style is an appropriate and positive choice. A leader spends a great deal of time on conflict resolution, whether it is between employees, between the company and a client, or between members of a team. Conflict exists everywhere and situations may require a different style or strategy to effectively be resolved. The Leadership Profile helps leaders understand what their default conflict management style is when they are dealing with supervisors, peers, or employees. Once a manager has an understanding of what their default style is, they can educate themselves on other conflict resolution strategies, and take the time to understand and learn which style applies most effectively in different situations.
Conflict management is just one of three essential sections of the thorough Leadership Profile Report. When considering leadership coaching & developing, future promotions, or hiring new managers, see how our Leadership Profile insights can support leaders to reach their highest potential.