5 Conflict Resolution Styles IT Professionals Need to Succeed

In a perfect world, everyone would get along all the time. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and there will always be differing opinions, conflicting personalities, and competing solutions. Workplace conflict is a part of life, and professionals in every industry – including IT – need to understand conflict resolution styles to do their job effectively.

What Is a Conflict Resolution Style?

Interpersonal conflict is inevitable, and everyone has a conflict resolution style that dictates how they respond. Most people respond without thinking – their preferred style is ingrained in their personality. A person’s conflict resolution style can escalate hostility, defuse tension, foster a beneficial solution, or defer decision-making to another day.

Why Do IT Professionals Need to Know Different Conflict Resolution Styles?

Self-awareness is an important aspect of emotional intelligence. Learning about different ways to resolve conflict will help you recognize your go-to method or natural tendency. It will also help you identify whether it’s effective, or if there are conflict resolution skills you should implement instead. 

As an IT manager, CIO, or MSP, it’s up to you to ensure your IT teams know the different conflict resolution skills to identify the go-to style of their colleagues, managers, or customers. If you can recognize the default style of the person you’re interacting with in a conflict situation, you can adjust your response to arrive at a beneficial outcome in a faster, healthier manner.

Understanding the various conflict-resolution styles also gives you more tools in your conflict-resolution toolbox. Though you may have a default or preferred style, understanding the other styles (and when they can be useful) can help you implement the best strategy for the situation.

What Are the Five Conflict Resolution Styles?

There are five common conflict resolution styles:

  1. Avoidant
  2. Competing
  3. Collaborating
  4. Accommodating 
  5. Compromising

We’ll dive deeper into each style below.

The Avoidant Conflict Management Style

A person who is conflict-avoidant doesn’t like to address conflict. They may be shy, insecure, or just prefer to pretend that conflict doesn’t exist. Sometimes, a person is conflict avoidant out of fear of the other person’s reaction. This style can help avoid an uncomfortable situation in the short term, but it doesn’t solve a problem in the long run.

The Competing Style

This approach to conflict resolution resolves conflict quickly. Instead of focusing on collaboration or compromise, someone with a competing style is more concerned with being right or having authority. A competing style can cause conflict within teams when people feel their opinions aren’t valued or considered and decisions about solutions are made unilaterally. 

The Collaborating Style

A collaborating style involves a team effort. All parties contribute to a solution that works for everyone. A collaborative approach can be time-consuming, but the results are usually the most successful and long-lasting.

The Accommodating Style

An individual with an accommodating style concedes to the other party to reach a quick resolution and avoid conflict. This style can be useful when dealing with a minor conflict that isn’t worth a battle, or to appease an individual with a tendency to be explosive or abusive. However, if a manager routinely concedes to an individual, it can be detrimental to the overall team. 

The Compromising Style

In a compromise, both parties concede something they want to reach an agreeable solution. Since nobody is getting everything they want, the end result can be “lose-lose,” as opposed to a collaborative approach where the goal is “win-win.” 

Which Conflict Management Style Is Best?

At first glance, some conflict resolution strategies seem healthier than others. But in reality, they all can be useful – it just depends on the situation. Consider these examples:

Customer feedback surveys regularly indicate that IT service response times are slow and communication is lacking. Over the past year, your department has implemented a few solutions to try to solve the problem, but the negative feedback persists.

A collaborative approach would work best in this circumstance. It may take a lot of time and creativity, but this long-term problem needs all stakeholders involved in developing an effective long-term solution.

A team member habitually leaves the supplies in disarray, making it harder for everyone else to find what they need and work efficiently. 

The competing style would work well in this case. A firm, unilateral policy by a manager is all that’s needed to solve the problem. 

A customer calls with a technical issue and is angry and frustrated. They repeatedly place blame on other people for their problem and demand that it be solved immediately. 

An avoidant approach would be appropriate in this scenario. The technical solution to the customer’s problem does not depend on whether anyone takes responsibility, so there is no reason to engage in this part of their complaint. Simply avoid the conflict and focus on solving the customer’s problem.

Two colleagues are working on a project together and disagree about which contractor to choose. They have spent hours weighing the pros and cons, discussing the costs, and trying to convince one another about why their choice is the best. The parties are at an impasse, and it’s clear no amount of further discussion will help them reach an agreement. 

Either a compromise or an accommodating approach could work here. Both will end the standoff and move the project forward. Though neither solution will result in a “win-win” for both parties, it’s also obvious that neither choice will be majorly detrimental to the project. Simply moving on will break the deadlock.

Skills To Help with Conflict Resolution

Understanding the different conflict resolution styles is only one piece of the puzzle; to resolve conflict effectively a person needs additional skills. These include:

  • Communication Skills: Good communication is necessary to effectively resolve conflict. Word choice, tone, and clear expression of concerns and needs facilitate healthy conflict resolution. Poor communication leads to misunderstandings and further conflict.
  • Listening Skills: A person needs good active listening skills to fully understand the other party’s concerns. Without a full comprehension of their perspective on the conflict, a mutually agreeable solution is difficult to reach. Plus, when the other person feels heard and understood, they are less likely to be combative and more likely to engage in a positive, productive discussion.
  • Empathy: Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see things from their perspective. It’s critical to resolve conflict because it helps you respond in a way that seeks the best for both parties rather than seeking only your own interests.
  • Body Language: Generally, open and inviting body language will facilitate connection and positive engagement with the other party during situations of conflict. This includes good eye contact (or appropriate eye contact), relaxed facial features, and uncrossed arms. However, in some circumstances (like working with a strong personality or handling a safety-related concern) it’s necessary to command authority and have a more closed stance to convey that the issue is no longer up for discussion and that a manager has made a unilateral decision. 
  • Emotional Intelligence: The ability to recognize another person’s emotions, respond appropriately, and regulate one’s own emotions are critical to resolving conflicts without escalation or avoiding a larger issue. When you recognize that another person is getting heated or that you are feeling angry or frustrated, you can take steps to de-escalate the situation so the conversation can remain healthy and productive.

Four Tips to Aid in Resolving a Conflict

  • Choose your battles. Is this really an important issue or is your ego calling the shots?
  • Look for commonalities. Even small areas of agreement can serve as a launching point for finding solutions.
  • Always allow the other person a graceful exit. Treat the other person with dignity and respect, even when you disagree with them. Make it easy for them to accept your ideas.
  • Focus on outcomes. There are often multiple correct paths to the same destination. Perhaps you and the other person agree on the desired outcome, but the conflict is about the process.

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