Reflect for a moment on the last time you had a disagreement at work: What was your approach to the situation? How did you feel about it? Was the situation satisfactorily resolved? The majority of people react to conflict by burying their head in the sand, with the futile hope that it will disappear by the time they resurface. But the longer they avoid the issue, the worse it seems to get. Since conflict is invariably associated with negative emotion and carries the risk of permanently damaging relationships, it is no wonder that many prefer to avoid the unpleasant task of facing it head on.
But conflict cannot be ignored: it happens. And worse, the potential havoc wreaked by conflict extends beyond the combatants, to their coworkers and employer. In some cases, the tension in the air is palpable when the disputing parties are present, communication shuts down or is diverted to unproductive gossip about the situation, and the workflow slows as interpersonal dysfunction takes over. Research shows us that 60-80% of organizational problems stem from employee conflict[i], rather than from deficits in the employees’ skill or motivation. According to Entrepreneur.com, $359 billion in paid hours across the US is lost[ii] to employee contending with conflict, rather than their work. Clearly, all members of the organization must take conscious steps towards mitigating the negative effects of conflict for the sake of their own wellbeing and for the sake of the organization.
C&A Industries, Inc. recognizes the importance of developing conflict resolution skills in employees, knowing that this will help maintain the culture of positivity that C&A is known for. Training on this topic is offered to all employees and utilizes the CALM Model as a framework for handling conflict in a productive manner. This strategy requires the conflicted individual to shift their attention away from their judgements of the situation and attempt to understand the other person’s perspective. With this understanding, it becomes possible for the disagreeing parties to form a mutually agreeable solution to the problem and move forward.
The CALM Model of Conflict[iii]
Clarify the Issue: The first stage of conflict resolution requires calm contemplation, entirely removed from the situation. Without clarity on how both parties contribute to and view the problem, it really isn’t possible to form a solution. In thinking about the conflict, it should be noted that many conflicts are a matter of perceptual disconnects; that is, different people might perceive the exact same event in radically different ways. Similarly to how one might try to objectively see a visual illusion, it is difficult to disentangle the objective facts of a situation from one’s own perceptual biases. Try to step back and view the situation from a third-person’s perspective and it will become more likely that you and the other person will be able to reach an accord.
Address the Problem: The second stage of conflict resolution involves engaging the other person in a discussion. You should carefully plan out what will be said here ahead of time, choosing your words in a way that avoids coming across as accusatory. The opening is perhaps the most critical point because it sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. Choose an opening that communicates to the other person that you want to work collaboratively with them to resolve the issue in a manner that is agreeable to everyone. Then, move on to describe the problem from your vantage point, staying as true to the facts as possible.
Listen to the Other Side: The only way to effectively deal with an interpersonal conflict is to address it through open dialogue, and this can only be accomplished if you are willing to listen to and understand the other person’s point of view. Good listening skills are essential to all types of communication, but particularly so for conflict resolution. By listening intently, you are expressing to the other person your openness to their perspective and willingness to meet them halfway.
Manage Your Way to Resolution: This is the most intensive portion of the CALM model, as it requires that both parties converge on a solution to resolve the conflict. Since the majority of conflicts stem from legitimate differences in opinion or perspective (as opposed to one person clearly wronging the other), people can find themselves caught in an impasse, where both feel as though their position is justified. At this point, the goal is to converge on a course of action that fulfills both parties’ needs and concerns: a win-win solution. After converging on a plan, both parties should agree on a way to hold each other accountable so the conflict does not resurface down the road.
The training department at C&A has recognized the fact that properly managing conflict is essential for maintaining a high-functioning workplace, and provides employees with the resources necessary to become more proficient at conflict resolution. But no matter where you work, these are skills that you should develop– it is not a matter of if you will need them, but when.
How has conflict affected your experience at work? What are your best tips for managing conflict?
[iii] What to Do When Conflict Happens (Eric Harvey & Steve Ventura)
Shannon Cooney recently graduated from Creighton University with a Bachelor’s in Economics and Psychology and a minor in Business. She is currently interning with C&A Industries in the Training Department, while continuing her research in Creighton’s Psychology department and applying to graduate programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. When not working, she loves to run, read, travel, and drink absurd amounts of coffee.