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Different Conflict Management Styles and When They Should be Used in Employee Relations

Feb 13, 2023
HR Acuity
conflict management

When someone’s work style is at odds with the rest of the crew, there’s bound to be some friction. Differing personalities, goals and habits can be a source of tension in the workplace. It’s human nature.

Disagreements are a natural part of life, and employee relations (ER) professionals should support and manage conflict in a constructive manner. There are many different conflict resolution styles and understanding each one and how it may be used can help an organization create a harmonious workplace.

Let’s take a look at each different conflict management style and how they can be leveraged by ER leaders to support a resolution.

What are the different conflict management styles?

By definition, conflict management is the process of resolving disagreements or disputes. This involves working with others to find a solution that’s satisfactory to all parties involved. An efficient conflict management strategy requires understanding one’s own “default” conflict style, as well as others’, and how to use certain techniques to reach a resolution. 

How human resources and ER managers handle each conflict situation can affect the organization and its ability to function effectively. When conflict isn’t resolved properly, it can lead to absenteeism, poor morale, low productivity and even lawsuits. Therefore, it’s important to develop positive conflict management skills to establish a strong management strategy that encourages the organization to thrive. 

Here are some of the most common conflict management styles, according to the popular Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) used by ER managers as well as when they should be used:

Avoidance Style

Avoidance is when a manager evades conflict by not seemingly addressing the issue. Although it may seem counterintuitive to sidestep responsive action, avoidance can sometimes be a good way to handle conflict when you’re not sure how to proceed or you’re waiting on more details. When confrontation isn’t appropriate or needed, this might be a good approach to take. Once you’ve collected the information you need, you can begin to move forward with a solution.

Collaborative Style

The collaborative style is the most appropriate for situations where the goal is to reach a consensus or a solution that’s acceptable to all those involved. When you’re trying to achieve a goal that involves multiple people, you can use this style to avoid tension by working together to come to a resolution. By collaborating, you can reduce the risk of disagreements or going back and forth over the same details.

Compromise Style

It’s not always possible to satisfy everyone when coming to an agreement on important issues. When a solution isn’t the main priority, you can work with your team to find a resolution, each compromising on some issues to get to a mutual solution. However, when using this approach, it’s important to avoid creating a situation where everyone feels like they haven’t received what they want, which may lead to further conflict.

Competition Style

Competition is typically not a good idea between co-workers, especially when it’s not friendly. This management style can be better understood as the “win-lose” style – where one or more people compete to get the best outcome for themselves with only one clear winner. Often, this style is fueled by aggression, pride and minimal cooperation. If it’s vital to the company that the problem be resolved, and the parties simply want a solution, then competing may be the best way to go. That said, remember that the competition style isn’t the best approach to take in most situations. Instead, negotiation and compromise may be more suitable.

Accommodation Style

Attempting to accommodate someone for the sake of peace can be beneficial in some situations, but in others it can be counterproductive, showing weakness and a lack of confidence. Some people will take advantage of those who agree with others to avoid conflict. In the end, this approach may lead to resentment and further issues in the future. One example of situations where accommodating does make the most strategic sense includes when an employee is consistently late for work because they must drop their child off at daycare. In that scenario, adjusting the employee’s schedule to accommodate might be the most effective way to resolve the conflict. 

Knowing which style is best for the situation can be a difficult task and may depend on the people involved. However, being aware of the appropriate steps to take when conflict arises can help leaders make the right decision. Wondering how to choose the correct style? Spoiler alert: There may not be one specific right way to resolve conflict. In fact, there may be multiple ways to do so. 

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How to choose the right style for your situation

There are multiple steps when dealing with a conflict situation that, when followed, can help leaders choose the best conflict resolution style at the right time. These include:

Identifying the source of the conflict

Pinpoint the cause of the conflict and the parties involved. Is the conflict a result of poor communication? Is it a result of an event or situation? Is the conflict a consequence of a personality clash? Once the root is identified, you can better choose the appropriate conflict resolution style.

For example, if the conflict is due to a personality clash between a boss and an employee, a compromise may be the most appropriate choice. If the two parties can settle on a middle ground, the conflict may be resolved long before it requires a more intense approach.

Gathering information

Obtain as much insight as you can concerning the incident to form a bigger picture of the issue. This is a vital step as it’ll help you make an informed decision regarding the best course of action. Gathering information may include conducting interviews with the involved parties or asking for a report from an outside source.

Encouraging open communication

Foster an environment in which all parties feel comfortable sharing their views and concerns. The key is openness and transparency, as well as creating an atmosphere of trust and integrity. Avoid accusing the involved parties of being biased or prejudiced; rather, ask them to explain why they feel a certain way. 

Looking for common ground

Establish areas of agreement and build upon them to arrive at a solution that’s satisfactory to all. This is the best method to attain a consensus and create solid relationships. It may also be the perfect opportunity to use a collaborative approach to solve the conflict and prevent future misunderstandings.

Developing and implementing a plan of action

Construct a strategy that resolves the problems and fears of all affected parties. This should be carefully drafted to ensure that everyone involved is willing to follow it and include expected preventative actions that minimize the likelihood of a recurrence.

Following up

Check in with all parties to guarantee that the plan is functioning and the dispute has been settled. If not, then take the necessary steps to address any continuing issues. Keep a record of the plan for future reference and documentation.

Evaluating the process

Reflect on the conflict resolution process and identify areas of improvement for subsequent conflicts. Use this information to develop new skills and strategies to handle conflict situations in the future. For example, if you discover that it’s necessary to implement a system for maintaining better confidentiality of sensitive information during a workplace investigation, then make that a requirement for all future conflict resolution sessions.

Recognize that all people have different perspectives on a situation, which is why it’s so important to get all parties to the table and allow them to express their concerns. Remember, don’t take sides, and don’t be quick to judge.

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The different levels of conflict

There are multiple levels of conflict, from minor disagreements to major crises. Some of these can be long lasting disputes that, when not handled properly, can cause permanent damage to the organization. 

Knowing how to manage and deal with different conflict levels is essential to finding an adequate resolution. 

 The different conflict levels are: 

  • Minor differences: Minor differences and conflicts, often based on misunderstandings, are usually resolved through communication and compromise.
  • Interpersonal conflicts: These types of disagreements are moderate in intensity and are often caused between individuals or multiple people with a difference in opinion, values and objectives. Their resolution often requires compromise or negotiation.
  • Intrapersonal conflicts: Intrapersonal conflict is a problem that is experienced internally by an individual. It’s frequently correlated with someone being unable to choose between two different points of view or ideas. For example, an employee might be conflicted between staying with the company or pursuing a career change.
  • Organizational conflicts: This level of conflict involves disputes between different divisions, groups or even entire organizations. The best way to deal with this type of conflict is to create a neutral environment, which may require some avoidance to ensure that no one is disproportionately affected by the decision.

There may even be some conflicts that are considered socially or politically oriented. For example, an external group may be at odds with an organization due to environmental, cultural or even ethical reasons. These issues may often require mediation or even formal intervention to resolve the dispute.

The benefits of conflict management software in the workplace

Managing conflict in the workplace is an integral part of any manager’s job. When conflict management is done right, it can lead to more thoughtful decisions, greater productivity and a more cohesive workforce. Through HR Acuity’s unique technology, you can gain insight into how individuals and groups are interacting with one another. 

You can also track issues, rank them according to their priority and assign them to the appropriate team members to ensure that problems are resolved as quickly as possible. Additionally, our software can be used to track the decision’s progress. Interested in learning more about HR Acuity and the benefits of case management software? Request a demo today.


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