How to Move from Conflict to Collaborative Learning

When you think about conflict, your first thought is about how bad you feel when in conflict with others or yourself. However, conflict is also positive because it creates discomfort. And many times, it is exactly what you need to move into a different direction, creating a new opportunity in life.

Conflict also gives an idea of differentiation and confrontation, and here I would like to bring up the principle of “confronting ideas.” This principle is seen as a creative and collaborative process for building knowledge. I have my idea, you have yours, and because of that, we could initiate a conflict. However, when you confront your ideas, something better for the team and the organization could emerge. You may end up with a better solution.

In addition, conflict is also part of the human condition. People are all diverse because they come from different families with different values and beliefs, and therefore they have different ways of thinking.

Following this perspective, conflicts could emerge in many different situations. Examples include times when a newcomer arrives in the organization, you are building teams of high performance, you are undergoing change management processes, among others.

Nevertheless, the tipping point here is how to move from pure conflict to a collaborative approach that promotes growth and learning for all personnel involved.

READ: Developing Yourself and Others: A Key Element of EI

Conflict Management
First, you should not fear or avoid conflict. After all, it is part of the human condition and it will happen sooner or later among your teammates. However, it is important to manage the conflict, setting boundaries and defining and communicating what is acceptable when it comes to behaviors at the workplace.

In the 2002 published journal report “Staff Perception on Conflict Management: Strategies in Tertiary Institutions in Adamawa State, Nigeria,” A.M. Rahim identifies five different managerial approaches to manage conflict: diagnosis, intervention, conflict, learning, effectiveness, and feedback. In his theory, conflict management involves designing effective strategies to minimize the dysfunctions of conflict, which enhances learning and effectiveness in an organization.

Globally, the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at organizations is top of mind. However, when working with diverse teams, with people from different generations, gender, ethnicity, and culture, you must prepare to deal with different perspectives and opinions around the same topic, what could create even more friction and conflict.

As a leader, you should be inclusive, give everyone the opportunity to speak up, and learn from the experiences and perspectives of others. Sometimes it can be challenging and time consuming, but it is one of the key drivers of conflict management.

Styles of Handling Conflict
To be an effective leader, you must understand how to manage conflict. Countless books and theories address the subject, but you could also learn from your mentors and peers. These are just a few learning strategies that could help you, but in all of them, the key point is to be open and curious.

As an example, Afzalur Rahim and Thomas V. Bonoma’s 1979 published journal report, “Managing Organizational Conflict: A Model for Diagnosis and Intervention,” includes a two-dimensional model that focuses on concern for self and concern for others and features five styles of handling interpersonal conflict. This first dimension explains the degree to which people attempt to satisfy their concern. The second dimension explains the degree (high or low) to which a person attempts to satisfy the concern of others.

Integrating (high concern for self and others) style is associated with problem solving
Obliging (low concern for self and high concern for others) style is associated with attempting to play down the differences and emphasize commonalities to satisfy others
Dominating (high concern for self and low concern for others) style has been identified with win-lose orientation, forcing behavior to win
Avoiding (low concern for self and others) style has been associated with withdrawal or sidestepping situations
Compromising (intermediate in concern for self and others) style involves give-and-take, win-win decision
Notwithstanding your style, conflict management requires experimentation, situation analysis, and risk-taking. In this sense, what is your level of readiness to deal with conflicts in a constructive way?

The contingency approach or situational approach is part of contemporary management theory, and it replaces the idea of pursuing “the best model” because individuals are unique and deal with conflicts in different ways. This approach considers two situations: the quality of the decision (who will be affected) and the level of acceptance of the decision.

Hence, effective leadership depends upon matching leadership styles with situations, once the approach “one size fits all” is no longer efficient.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *