The 5 Skills You Need to Get Ahead: Conflict Management (4 of 6)

May 3, 2006

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When trying to resolve work-related issues, you should:

ANSWER: (B) Address the points that you and your challenger agree on before stating your opposition to some of his/her points.

Dennis Adams, senior vice president at Greenwood Village, CO-based Corum Real Estate Group and BOMI chairman, points out that, in the life of a property or facility manager, every week presents the potential for a problem to be misunderstood - and that’s exactly where conflict begins. “Most of the time, a conflict comes about because you define the problem one way and someone else defines the problem another way; you lose the ability to communicate on a common ground. Find out what the real problem is. Did you sign a contract that you didn’t fully understand? Were your expectations different than the other party’s?”

Conflicts are impossible to avoid, but many professionals don’t want to deal with them. “Thinking that the problem is going to go away is one of the most common mistakes,” says Fred Prassas, Institute of Real Estate Management president and president at PMC Management Group, La Crosse, WI. Problems don’t go away if you ignore them - they only get worse over time, creating unfriendly work environments and unproductive employees. “In the worst-case scenarios, conflicts that don’t get resolved end up being resolved by another party - usually a judge.”

Adams points to five typical approaches to resolving conflict: avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise, and collaboration. Avoidance is self-explanatory - it’s avoiding the issue. Accommodation is giving into another party and providing them with what they want. Competition is a win/lose scenario - winning at someone’s expense. Compromise involves parties that are willing to give up certain things. Collaboration takes into account both parties’ concerns to reach an agreement. “Collaboration is best; it creates an environment of trust,” he explains.

Another all-too-common mistake is not having empathy. “The famous catch-all phrase that can get you into trouble is, ‘It’s our company policy,’ ” says Adams. If someone has approached you with a problem, the last thing they want to hear is that phrase (or the phrase “that’s what the contract says.”) “They’re not approaching you to make an inquiry about your company policy ... they’re approaching you because they have a problem.” Regardless of what your documents or policies say, find out what it will take for the conflict to be resolved from the perspective of the other party. “If you can get a person to articulate that 95 percent of the time, you’ll be able to solve the problem.” And, as Prassas points out, if issues are arising because they conflict with company policy, perhaps the policy is the problem.

A good thing to remember throughout times of conflict is the bottom line: There’s a conflict because separate parties are simply looking for resolution to reach common ground. When you’re involved in a disagreement:

  • Don’t take sides after hearing only half of the story. If you choose to remain open, it moves you closer to a resolution.
  • Bring the conflicting parties together for a face-to-face meeting. “I doubt if you can solve any kind of contentious issue by a barrage of e-mail. I have yet to see someone who can so artfully craft an e-mail that it resolves an issue. It still amounts to people sitting down, listening, showing empathy, and being sincere about finding a resolution. Those skills come across in direct communication - it’s very difficult to do by writing a letter or sending an e-mail,” says Adams.
  • Listen attentively to all parties, and demonstrate that you have heard everyone’s concerns - people often need to be heard before they will listen. Validate everyone’s point of view - that doesn’t mean you have to agree, but does indicate you think their views are legitimate. Make sure the underlying issues are exposed. What are the greatest needs of each side? What’s most important? Is there something that you think isn’t being said?
  • Get the parties to agree on how the problem will be resolved. Usually, those involved in a conflict believe that there is one right way - and it’s their way. Make sure everyone knows that the solution will involve concessions on both sides.

You can practice your conflict-management skills by asking colleagues to share conflicts they’ve had with policies and/or people in the workplace. Think about how you would have addressed those issues. “Start with some easy stuff and work your way up,” says Kathleen Mc-Kenna-Harmon, an Institute of Real Estate Management instructor based in Minnetonka, MN. Practicing may also help you choose how you want to act in a situation of conflict.

Prassas says that the first (and easiest) way to get better at dealing with conflict is to get involved. Start with conflicts that don’t have anything to do with you; remove yourself from the situation and practice your techniques by being a mediator or third-party observer. Watch what other people do and gain skills to prevent those same conflicts from happening in the future.

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