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Conflict Management

Types of Conflict

How many times have we found ourselves involved in discussions within the workplace? And how many times have we witnessed conflicts (as it is technically called) between colleagues? How many times have we decided to intervene, and how many other times have we remained silent, pretending that nothing was happening, either to avoid getting dragged into the conflict or simply because we didn’t know how to handle the situation?


It is normal for this to happen, to a greater or lesser extent, even when there are no ill intentions during the discussions: stress, workload, or other external/internal factors can exacerbate tensions and bring unexpected issues to the surface, complicating an apparently calm situation. Conflict can arise from communication problems (misunderstandings, misinterpretation of words or behaviours of others) or from relational conflicts (when two or more employees do not get along with each other). Managing this latter type becomes more complicated and, at the same time, essential, as it requires finding a way to coexist with individuals who are fundamentally incompatible.

What to do during a conflict?

What to do during a conflict? Silence is not a solution. Every person (whether a superior or an employee) should intervene in conflicts between colleagues or inform a superior if one or more of the following signs are identified during the normal daily work routine:

  • The two parties avoid each other.
  • Hostile and defensive body language.
  • Aggressive language.
  •  

This situation, whether evident or latent, tends to escalate over time, with sometimes irreparable consequences that inevitably affect not only the parties involved but also the entire work environment. Therefore, it is better to intervene in the initial stages when finding a solution is simpler, organizing a clarifying conversation with the involvement of a third person who can act as a mediator external to the conflict. Over the years, several studies have been conducted in the field of work and personnel, including the internal dynamics between colleagues, leading to the development of a case study that resulted in the creation of a management method with guidelines – the Harvard method.

The Harvard Method

Developed in 1981 in a project at Harvard University, its goal is not to reach a compromise but to achieve the best possible outcome for the parties involved. It establishes clear principles to be respected for effective conflict management:

  • Be specific: The motivations and elements of the discussion must be concrete, allowing room for emotions while clearly separating the emotional level from the material one.
  • Focus on the interests of both parties. Often, a thorough analysis reveals that their objectives are closely aligned (in a strictly work-related context, the objective is the completion of the work itself).
  • Search for solutions together collectively, not individually.
  • The evaluation of the final solution is based on a joint discussion of objective advantages and disadvantages agreed upon by all parties.

 
Ideally, the resolution of the conflict should lead to the best achievable situation: a WIN-WIN outcome, where none of the parties are dissatisfied with the confrontation’s result. This is possible only when the adopted solution has been deemed by all involved parties as the best among the possible applicable solutions, excluding other alternatives accordingly. Other possible outcomes includes: LOSE-LOSE (conflict resolution imposed by a superior with a severe decision, ignoring the expectations of the parties involved); WIN-LOSE (one party exits dissatisfied, and a conflict is likely to reemerge); 50-50 (both parties give up something).

We are human, and if we are passionate about what we do, conflicts may arise—almost inevitable. The ability to manage or even avoid them grows with experience, maturity, and professionalism of everyone.

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40 YEARS EXPERIENCE
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