Conflict Resolution Strategies for Teams & Collaborators

You try your very best to avoid it, but sometimes there’s no escaping it. As much as your try to prevent it, conflict, whether that is in your personal or professional life, it’s almost inevitable. You have two options: learn how to embrace and resolve conflict or let it consume, control, and defeat you. The latter of the two shouldn’t even be an option because bouncing back from it will be more difficult the more times you succumb to it.

To embrace conflict, you must be able to clearly identify the various types of conflict you may face.

To face conflict, you must know what the different types of “reactors” you’ll be encountering.

To resolve conflict, you must equip yourself with conflict resolutions strategies.

Because this is a somewhat sensitive subject, I’m going to make this information very clear and easy for you to understand, and in a way that it can be shared with others. Let’s not beat around the bush. Ain’t nobody got time for that…

In this article, you’ll learn:

  •      The four different types of conflicts that can occur during collaboration (and also in life).
  •      Why conflict is crucial to our overall development as individuals.
  •      Why two out of the four types of conflict are beneficial to experience and process in low doses.
  •      The three different types of reactor meaning what type of person you will encounter.
  •      The five strategies used to address conflict.

Different Types of Conflict

To first understand how to resolve conflict in a group setting, we must have an understanding of what types of conflicts may occur and why. Sociologists and psychologists have concluded there are four main types of conflict and they are:

  •  Task: Involves the disparities among individuals linked and related to a specific task, including its overall goal, the direction, and course it takes and all its working components and contents.  This type of conflict is brought on by a clash in opinions and viewpoints and proposed changes. People often turn task conflict into relationship conflict due to emotions and opinions.
  •  Relationship: The most capricious and counter-productive conflict of them all. It’s destructive, drama-filled, causes delays in project completion and can be detrimental to the overall outcome of the project as a whole. Clashing personalities, opinions, perceptions and communication types. It is the most common conflict experienced during collaboration.   
  •  Process: Everyone thinks his or her way is the right way to steer the project ship. When responsibilities, assignments and a project manager are not assigned, process conflict occurs and will trigger task and relationship conflict. This type of conflict occurs when the “dividing and conquering” roles have not been properly assigned and there is a misunderstanding of specific individuals strengths and weaknesses.
  •  Role/Status Conflict: This occurs when individuals compete for status, respect, acknowledgment and social praise from peers. This type of conflict often melts into a relationship conflict that quickly turns into a process conflict and then into a task conflict. It’s like the first domino that falls and triggers a chain reaction.

Benefits of Conflict

Even though conflict has a negative connotation attached to it, conflict is crucial in our overall development. Engaging and overcoming it has various positive effects on our minds, personalities, and social growth. To overcome conflict takes ingenuity. Being faced with it tests and strengthens our level of maturity and our abilities to process right and wrong. Challenging it can change archaic practices and processes.

Conflict is also beneficial to the overall health and growth of a collaborating group if low levels of task and process conflict arise because it rouses competition amongst the members and ignites creativity. But don’t let relationship and role/status conflict occur even in small doses because when emotion and insecurities are involved, then it’s harder to come back to a positive place in the collaboration process.

Types of Reactors

Before we can begin to resolve conflict, we need to have an understanding of what type of a “reactor” an individual may be.

According to Dale Carnegie Training, there are three different types of reactors in conflicts. They explain them as follows:

  • Passive: You may be such a pushover that you allow difficult people to walk all over you. You will benefit from learning to stand up for your ideas and opinions in a diplomatic and tactful way.
  •  Assertive: You are professionally assertive when dealing with people,particularly difficult people. Continue to be open to listening to different points of view, and express your ideas and opinions appropriately.
  • Aggressive: You may be so combative that people might avoid interacting with you. You will benefit from learning to listen and express your opinions more effectively.

You can see how these three reactor types can dovetail into the different types of conflict that may occur. For example, it’s clear as day how an aggressive reactor may be quick to turn something into a relationship or status/role conflict based on their overall personality and reaction type. Knowing how these types of reactors can affect the group (and influence others) is important to also keep in mind. For instance:

  • Passive reactors are submissive and avoiders. They are quick to resent others and will try and manipulate the other group members to follow suit.
  • Aggressive reactors are easily prone into bullying group members into accepting a specific path and overall outcome.
  • Assertive reactors are the happy medium and the peacekeepers of collaboration. They produce long-lasting strategies and positive outcomes.

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5 Conflict Resolution Strategies

Knowing the different types of reactors you may encounter as a project manager or even as a group/team member is going to help in this final stage of conflict resolution because you’re going to need to weigh a few things.

According to typesofconflict.org, there’s an assessment used globally called The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which specifies five detailed strategies used to address and resolve conflict in a group setting:

They are explained as follows:

  • “Accommodation: This involves having to deal with the problem with an element of self-sacrifice; an individual sets aside his own concerns to maintain peace in the situation. Thus, the person yields to what the other wants, displaying a form of selflessness. It might come as an immediate solution to the issue; however, it also brings about a false manner of dealing with the problem. This can be disruptive if there is a need to come up with a more sound and creative way out of the problem. This behavior will be most efficient if the individual is in the wrong as it can come as a form of conciliation.
  • Avoiding: In this approach, there is withdrawal from the conflict. The problem is being dealt with through a passive attitude. Avoiding is mostly used when the perceived negative end outweighs the positive outcome. In employing this, individuals end up ignoring the problem, thinking that the conflict will resolve itself. It might be applicable in certain situations but not in all. Avoidance would mean that you neglect the responsibility that comes with it. The other individuals involved might think that you are neglecting the problem. Thus, it is better to confront the problem before it gets worse.
  • Collaborating: This strategy aims to find a solution to the conflict through cooperating with other parties involved. Hence, communication is an important part of this strategy. In this mechanism, effort is exerted in digging into the issue to identify the needs of the individuals concerned without removing their respective interests from the picture. Collaborating individuals aim to come up with a successful resolution creatively, without compromising their own satisfactions.
  • Competing: Competition involves authoritative and assertive behaviors. In this style, the aggressive individual aims to instill pressure on the other parties to achieve a goal. It includes the use of whatever means to attain what the individual thinks is right. It may be appropriate in some situations but it shouldn’t come to a point wherein the aggressor becomes too unreasonable. Dealing with the conflict with an open mind is vital for a resolution to be met.
  • Compromising: It’s about coming up with a resolution that would be acceptable to the parties involved. Thus, one party is willing to sacrifice their own sets of goals as long as the others will do the same. Hence, it can be viewed as a mutual give-and-take scenario where the parties submit the same amount of investment for the problem to be solved. A disadvantage of this strategy is the fact that since these parties find an easy way around the problem, the possibility of coming up with more creative ways for a solution would be neglected.”

Knowing which strategy to use and when is going to depend on the situation and parties involved. It will take not only practice but also a devised plan and a weighing of potential outcomes.

If you’re the individual who has to resolve a conflict within the group, you could list out all five of these strategies and list out the pros and cons involved. Get a piece of paper (or 10 if its that big of a conflict) and on each slice, write down at the top of the page what the strategy is (example: Competing), and then list what the pros and cons would be to use this strategy and how these potential outcomes will affect the individual members of the group.

When you’ve weighed all options and outcomes, the right strategy may be sitting right in front of you.

Quick Takeaways from this Article:

  • The 4 main types of conflict you may encounter are: task, relationship, process and role/social.
  • Engaging in conflict is crucial to our overall personal and social growth.
  • To be able to properly resolve conflict you must have an understanding of the different types of people or “reactors” you may encounter. Each one requires a different level and method of approach.
  • There are 5 types of conflict resolution strategies that can be used to resolve conflict: accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, competing and compromising.