Thursday, July 2, 2009

Conflict Resolution Styles

We all have been working for many years in software industry. Everyday we face situations such as disagreement over deadlines with manager, different opinions about features with product manager and differences over task priorities with sub-ordinates. These are some names. There can be many similar situations at workplace. These situations are called conflicts with people.

Some of these conflicts are easy to resolve, some others might have lasting impact such as delayed project and bad relationship with your team. In case, we are working with virtual teams. Conflict could really be difficult to resolve because we don’t interact with our teammates face to face.

A lot of energy and time is gulped by the conflicts. Considering this as a consistent problem in our professional life, I decided to talk about resolution of conflicts.

I will be talking about four conflict resolution styles –first competing, second collaborating, third Compromising and fourth Avoiding.

These styles will help you resolve the conflicts. So that you have less frustrating days and better relationship with your teammates.

First is Competing. In this style, you declare decisions without other’s opinion. For success of this style, you must hold high rank in your organization.
Consider a situation: you are the project manager. Your project’s deadline is next week. Unfortunately, three unexpected critical bugs are filed.

What is the best resolution to it?

The best resolution is to explain situation to your team. Tell them that you need to deliver project on schedule and ask them to work over weekend. But if you use this style frequently and without conveying your reasons, it could leave your teammates angry and unsatisfied.

Second is Collaborating. Here, you give equal importance to other’s interests. You try your best to bring a solution, which satisfies all parties.
Consider a situation: you have a conflict with your manager. You think that project ‘s design will take 30 days to complete. While your manager thinks that design should not take more than 25 days.

What is the best resolution to it?

In this situation, if your manager tries to force his schedule, it might result it in delayed project.
The best resolution is to sit with your manager and find out the exact points of disagreement. You would have considered constraints such as most teammates in India would apply for leaves during Indian festivals. While your manager missed this constraint completely because he is hasn’t worked with Indian team before.

Third is Compromising. Here, you give up something and other party also gives up something. You both strive to get middle ground solution for conflict.
Consider a situation: you are leading a team, which provides support to USA customer. Everybody gets together and wants vacation for 5 days during festival. You can’t deny your teammates leaves and you can’t shut off the operation either.

What is best resolution to it?

You ask the teammates who could work from home to work for 4 hrs instead of 8 hrs. You request others to come back in 3 days instead of 5 days.
This satisfies both parties partially.

Finally comes avoiding. Can you resolve all conflicts upfront? I don’t think it is possible. Here, You withdraw from the conflict and wait for appropriate moment to confront with it.
Suppose you are having conversation with a client about new features in a project. You inform the client that these features are out of project scope. If he requires them to be part of project, it will cost him extra. He demands you to show estimated cost. Seeing the high cost, client starts argue with you and this argument turns heated.

What is the best resolution?

In this situation, if you continue argument, you might harm the relationship with the client. The client may cancel the project.
The best resolution is to withdraw from the argument and wait for next meeting. Let the things settle down. Bring proper evidence to back your argument. Send your proposal beforehand. In next meeting, explain your reasoning to the client. Client could understand situation from your perspective in better way.

So these are the 4 styles to resolve conflicts. Let us revisit them.
Competing – one party takes a decision and other party follow it.
Collaborating – both parties take decision and both parties are fully satisfied with decision.
Compromising – Both parties give up something and both parties are partially satisfied.
And at end avoiding –Decision is postponed.

Finally, I would say if you face the conflict again, analyze it properly. Try to figure out, which style would suite the best to resolve it. Sometimes you need to use your position to resolve conflicts and enforce rules. Some other times, you need to avoid conflict because it may harm long-term prospect.

So try these styles. See if you are able to resolve conflicts faster; I am sure you would be.

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