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A look at small business questions from the Southwestern Oregon Community College Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
By Arlene M. Soto CMA, CGBP, Southwestern SBDC Director

What conflict management strategy is best in my business?

The best conflict management strategy to use is dependent on the situation. No one strategy will be right for all conflict situations. Research on conflict management has found that each person tends to use or two strategies more than others.

According to Dr. Scott Williams, Department of Management, Wright State University “There is a menu of strategies we can choose from when in conflict situations”. These strategies are identified as:

  • Forcing - using formal authority or other power that you possess to satisfy your concerns without regard to the concerns of the party that you are in conflict with.
  • Accommodating - allowing the other party to satisfy their concerns while neglecting your own. 
  • Avoiding - not paying attention to the conflict and not taking any action to resolve it. 
  • Compromising - attempting to resolve a conflict by identifying a solution that is partially satisfactory to both parties, but completely satisfactory to neither. 
  • Collaborating - cooperating with the other party to understand their concerns and expressing your own concerns in an effort to find a mutually and completely satisfactory solution (win-win).

Several variables are important to consider when choosing the best conflict management strategy to use: time, importance of the issue, importance of the relationships involved, interpersonal power and goals of the parties involved and the organization. Choosing the wrong strategy for the situation can result in undesirable consequences.

Conflict in the workplace is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes conflict can point out problems that need to be resolved or questions that need to be addressed. Positive conflict resolution can lead to increased understanding between co-workers, increased cohesiveness in a workgroup or improved self-awareness of group members. The key is handling the situation correctly.

Some of the important issues to consider when developing a conflict resolution strategy:

  • Establish the ground rules for conflict resolution.
  • Keep people and problems separate.
  • Pay attention to all the interests being communicated.
  • Identify the facts in the situation.
  • Listen carefully to all sides before making a decision.
  • Explore the resolution options together.

Sometimes if the conflict is out of hand, it’s best to bring in a facilitator who is trained in conflict resolution. This can alleviate some of the emotions that led to the conflict and help find workable resolution for all parties concerned.

The SBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, the Oregon Business Development Department and Southwestern Oregon Community College. Arlene M. Soto has been the Director of the Southwestern Small Business Development Center since July 2007. To ask a question call 541-756-6445, e-mail asoto@socc.edu, or write 2455 Maple Leaf, North Bend, OR 97459. Additional help is available at the OSBDCN Web page www.bizcenter.org.

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