Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Managing Conflict Situations Effectively

You are not here to fix the blame; you are here to fix the problem”
(Paul MacGee)

Recently I have read 'Self-Confidence. The Remarkable Truth of Why a Small Change Can Make a Big Difference' by Paul McGee. Paul McGee is a UK speaker and writer on the area of change, confidence, workplace relationships and motivation. I enjoyed reading the book and its concepts, many of which can be applied to various workplace situations.

In particular, I would like to relate this post to one of the chapters titled 'How to Handle Conflict Confidently'.
In fact, how many of us sometimes have found or find managing conflict situations within the organisation as difficult (for instance within the team and perhaps particularly when there are extremes of personalities)?
Therefore, today I would like to focus on this topic and I do hope you may find it useful.

These are the marginalia extracted from that chapter:

Communication between people can be a minefield. Emotions, egos and differing personalities can create an explosive cocktail. Yet communication is at the heart of all we do...And the quality of our communication can have a profound impact on the quality of our relationships...
Most people I come across don't enjoy or welcome conflict... Perhaps those people who do seem to enjoy it have both the confidence and the competence to handle it effectively...But whether or not we enjoy it, the reality is it's difficult to avoid.”

After this preamble, Paul Macgee presents four insights to be aware of with regards to conflict situations:


Conflicts, disagreements and misunderstanding are not wrong. They are an inevitable consequence of living in a fast-paced, ever-changing and ever-expanding world...In fact, disagreements can be the crucible out of which creative and new ides are born...
It is not the conflict itself that is wrong but when it is handled badly things invariably do go wrong...The truth is: conflict is inevitable. However, fighting is optional.”


People have different agendas, priorities, beliefs, expectations, tolerances to stress, self-awareness issues...In the game of life, conflict comes with the territory.


You have the right to deal with others without being dependent on them for approval. It is impossible to please everyone all of the time. When that is your goal you will do all you can to avoid conflict or disagreement with others. Wanting to please other people is fine but if it done only in order to achieve acceptance and approval, then you have a problem (not disconnected with this right the author also cites: You have the right to say “no” to requests without feeling guilty or selfish).

You have the right to have your ideas and opinions listened to and accepted as valid and important for you. People might not agree with your opinions and sometimes your ideas might not always be well thought through – but you still have the right to express them.

You have the right to set clear boundaries. Don't fall into the trap of expecting people to be mind readers and then resent them for when they are not. Clearly set out what you can and cannot do for someone.

You have the right to ask for time to think things over. Don't always give in to the demands people make to give them an instant answer. When appropriate take your time.

You have the right to decline feeling responsible for other people's problems. If you are happy to help someone remember to set clear boundaries. Avoid being taken on a guilt trip. If you are not careful people will be dumping their problems on you.

You have the right to be treated with respect. Whatever your job title, status or background you are a human being and are entitled to be treated so.”


At this stage the author explains that recognising our rights is only one side of the bargain. In fact, if we would like to handle conflict situations confidently we also need to be aware of our responsibilities.

You have the responsibility to accept that other people have their own opinions, feelings, views and ideas, which may be different from your own. And these may never change. Sometimes you have to accept you will need to agree to disagree. And that is OK.

You have the responsibility to talk in a clear way to others so they understand your needs. Perhaps the breakdown in communication is not down to the other person but due to us being vague and unclear in how we have put across our views.

You have the responsibility to accept the consequences of your actions and decisions, particularly when you choose to assert yourself. It cab be easy to see ourselves as put upon and to play the role of victims. Accept that this may be the price you pay for a passive response. It didn't automatically happen – your response contributed to the outcome.

You have the responsibility to recognise that other people may choose not to be involved in resolving your problems. Clearly communicate your needs and express your expectations of others but recognise that people have their own reasons for not getting involved. Remember they also have rights.

You have the responsibility to ensure you do not make unreasonable demands of others in order to alleviate your own stress. That is an important point to be aware of. Is there someone close to you who you are placing unreasonable demands on?”

In any conflict situations we all have both our rights and our responsibilities. As the author suggests, being aware of this is a prerequisite for managing a potential conflict more effectively. Not just being focused either on our rights or on our responsibilities, but on both and consciously.

Finally, I would like to include within these marginalia one of the four approaches that Paul MacGee suggests for dealing with a conflict situation:


Your goal in resolving conflict is not to make the other person squirm and to heap guilt and condemnation on the them...Our goal is to see a solution – not carry out a crucifixion. So what is the best way to achieve that?”

The author advices asking questions such us: 'How can we best resolve this?'; 'How can we prevent that happening again?'
By asking questions you are including the other person in the solution. This in itself is a great way to help them avoid losing face. It's also moving the conversation from what might, however unintentionally, be seen as the territory of 'blame and shame' to 'back in the game'. It is helping move the conflict on to resolution....And people are more likely to buy into a solution that they have been part of.”

Although - as the author cites - there is no a right way to deal with conflict, the above approach can increase the chances of dealing with it successfully. It implies involving the other person to help resolve an issue, focusing on solving the solution rather than on blame and remembering that relationships are never straightforward: as human being we do all have some basic rights and responsibilities.