There is much to learn from each other as professionals begin normalizing the new, post-pandemic work realities of the hybrid and remote workplace. Conflict is bound to occur as bosses and associates learn how to navigate the new “workscape” together. I don’t particularly like conflict, and early in my career, I did all I could to avoid it.
However, this pathway always cost me more in terms of relationship management and personal energy management. As a leader who avoided conflict, I also became part of the problem – my actions reinforced destructive cultural behaviors and a lack of accountability. Later, I learned that avoiding conflict was synonymous with missed growth opportunities.
A tool I was introduced to that helped me navigate conflict is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model. It identifies five distinct styles people take on during conflict. They are:
- Avoiding style individuals have low concern for themselves and others and choose to withdraw, ignore, or passively agree when in conflict.
- Obligating style individuals have low concern for themselves but high concern for others. Obligators face conflict by doing everything they can to smooth things over and reestablish harmony.
- Dominating style individuals have a high concern for themselves and a low concern for others. Dominating individuals tend to create win-lose situations, and they want to win.
- Compromising style individuals have a moderate concern for themselves and a moderate concern for others. Compromising individuals spend personal energy focusing on middle-ground solutions.
- Integrating style individuals have high regard for themselves and others. Integrators naturally seek consensus in conflict by examining differences.
Each of these styles are important and necessary in conflict. They must be understood and managed by the individual (and the group) to reach productive solutions to reach productive solutions and drive productivity.
Since the workplace reset of 2020, bosses and associates have discovered and adapted new methods of communication, accountability, decision-making, and use of authority. These changes were ushered in by leaders who turned conflict into healthy collaboration yielding increased engagement, empowerment, performance, and production. Conflict has served as an evolutionary mechanism to transform pre-pandemic workplace processes and procedures into post-pandemic power platforms.
So, what’s the key? The best conflict managers display high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ), understand how to navigate sensitive issues, and remain focused on the goal to be achieved. They understand themselves and manage their reactions showing empathy, motivation, and social skills required to find the best solution for the team. These leaders understand conflict styles, keep an open mind, and manage their energy (plus the group’s energy) to achieve organizationally healthy outcomes.
For me, conflict management has been a balance of applying the science and art of leadership to the problem at hand. It’s been a life-long series of trial-and-error leadership challenges. While conflict can be extremely humbling, it can also be a source of positive change your organizaiton needs.
We’re interested in your thoughts, techniques, and stories on managing conflict as a leader in the post-pandemic workplace. We are all learning together, and the more we collaborate, the stronger we become for each other. Please take a minute and leave a comment on your successes or struggles!