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Communicating during times of conflict: what any manager should know

Dealing with conflict in a business is inevitable because of cultural diversity among employees.  How managers communicate during conflict situations is of utmost importance.  Bad choice of words and even the tone of the message can strain relationships even more.  Employees interpret messages according to their own frame of references and if there are poor interpersonal relationships because of a conflict situation, misunderstandings can easily occur.  During conflict situations, employees are generally suspicious and distrustful.  It is important for managers to remember that employees assign meaning to words and that meaning thus resides in people and not in the words that are used.

During conflict the manager needs to use effective communication skills.   Effective communication skills are of utmost importance during conflict resolving situations. Messages should be clearly conveyed in a logical manner to ensure that there are no misunderstandings.  Messages should also be powerful and motivate employees to resolve the conflict.  Patience is important and an attempt should be made to understand all points of view   without any prejudice.  Alternative points of view should be listened to patiently, carefully and attentively.  Dealing with conflict requires courage, patience and even empathy from the manager.

The manager should never be defensive when dealing with conflict as it will also cause distrust when trying to solve the conflict.  When a manager instills trust, effective communication will occur.  Managers have different styles when dealing with conflict which can be controlling, collaborating, avoiding, accommodating or compromising, depending on the specific conflict situation.

Controlling is best when...
  •   fast, decisive action is crucial, for example, in the case of emergencies.
  •  an important issue requires the manager’s immediate action, albeit unpopular.
  •   you know you are right.
  •  the other party might take advantage of the conflict situation.  

Collaborating is best when...

  •   the issues are too important to be compromised.
  •  the objective is to include different points of view to get the best solution.
  •  you need the commitment of all parties to make a solution work.
  • an important relationship with employees should rather  be maintained.

Avoiding is best when...

  •   the issues are not that important.
  •  there are far more other important issues to pay attention to.
  •   there is no chance of achieving your objectives.
  •  there are no benefits in dealing with the conflict
  •  employees need to calm down first and regain their perspectives
  • others can resolve the conflict more effectively.
  •  you need time to obtain more information about the conflict situation.

Accommodating is best when... 
  •   you realize that your point of view is incorrect.
  •    you want your employees to perceive you as sensible.
  •     the issues are more important to the other party.
  •    you wish to increase your own credibility in order to better deal with other issues later.
  •   you realize that your own position is very weak.
  •  having stability in the business is more important.

 Compromising is best when... 
  •  issues are important to you but you cannot afford to be too controlling,
  •   the relationship is important but you cannot afford to accommodate,
  •  all parties have the same goals irrespective of points of view
  •  you have to find a practical solution under too much pressure, and
  •  it is the only significant option among all the other weak solutions.


Capozzoli, TK. 1999. Conflict resolution - a key ingredient in successful teams. Supervision, 60(i11).

DeVoe, D. 1999. Communication skills: Learn to resolve or avoid conflicts. InfoWorld, 21(i34).

Lewis. PV 1987. Organization Communication. The essence of Effective Management. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Varhol, P. 2000. Managing conflict in the workplace. Electronic Design, 48(i22).

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