Conflict Management

Lynne D. Richardson, M.D., F.A.C.E.P.
Vice Chair and Residency Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine

CONFLICT is an antagonistic state or action in which there is a struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes or external or internal demands. However if you properly manage conflict, it can lead to growth and success. Conflict management is an essential professional (and life) skill and improves with practice.

You can respond to conflict in two very different ways:

  • satisfy your own concerns (Assertiveness)
  • satisfy the other person's concerns (Cooperativeness)

You can combine assertiveness and cooperativeness in different proportions for five alternative Management Strategies. Each has a place in your toolkit:

1. Assertive & Uncooperative; Competitive: I win/you lose

  • when quick, decisive action is vital
  • when enforcing unpopular rules
  • when you know you are right
  • to protect against people who take advantage of noncompetitive behavior

2. Unassertive and cooperative; Accommodate: I lose/you win

  • when you know that you are wrong
  • to show that you are reasonable and can learn from others
  • to build up social credit for later issues
  • to preserve harmony
  • when you are outmatched and losing
  • to aid in the development of others

3. Unassertive and uncooperative: Avoid: I won't play

  • there is no chance of satisfying your concerns
  • the potential damage of confronting the conflict outweighs benefits of resolution
  • to let people, (including you), calm down
  • more information should be gathered
  • others can resolve the conflict more effectively

4. Assertive and cooperative: Collaborate: win/win

  • to test your own assumptions when your objective is to learn
  • to find an integrative solution
  • to merge insights
  • to gain commitment to the solution
  • to work through hard feelings
  • to protect or enhance important relationships

5. Unsuccessfully assertive and/or reluctantly cooperative; Compromise: trade-off

  • when the goals are moderately important
  • when two opponents with equal power are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals
  • to achieve temporary settlements for complex issues
  • to find expedient solutions under time pressure
  • when competition or collaboration fails

Negotiation for Conflict Management - Can be viewed as a strategy to pursue your interests by reaching agreement with another party. Although this may be a stressful confrontation, it provides an opportunity for an exercise in joint problem solving.

Most important step prior to Negotiation: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

  1. By evaluating their interests and yours
  2. Create options
  3. Determine what is standard
  4. Consider alternative solutions
  5. Provide and invite proposals

BATNA Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement - What both parties can live with and they can move forward with. You must identify your BATNA accurately -don't overestimate it or underestimate it

Problem Solving Process: the collaborative approach

Identify and define the problem:

Not all apparent conflicts are actual conflicts. First separate the people from the problem. Then you can openly analyze all partiesÂ’ interests. An important step is to obtain necessary information as a basis for exploration and brainstorming options. You need to decide what your goals are in terms of the issue vs. relationship. This requires that you recognize/define relationships.

Generate a list of alternatives:

Be creative, reconceptualize the problem, challenge assumptions, verify constraints

Evaluate alternatives with respect to all parties:

Discuss all issues; focus on interests, not positions; deal with doubts, questions and concerns; identify objective criteria to measure results

Reassess your goals:

Issues v. relationship, costs of pursuing your interests, fuller appreciation of outcomes

Agree upon the best alternative:

Specify all actions to be taken; and specific steps for implementation, evaluation & if needed, renegotiation

Breakthrough Strategies in Negotiation include

You can "go to the balcony"- time out to stand back and look over the situation-gain a different perspective. This is also achieved by "stepping to their side" in order to see things from their perspective. This can lead to you reframing and building bridges between the two positions. The negotiation can provide mutual education.

References: Conflict Management & Negotiation

Ury W. Getting Past No: Negotiating your way from confrontation to cooperation. New York: Bantam; 1993.

Fisher R, Ury W, Patton, B. Getting to Yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New York: Penquin; 1991.

Cohen, H. You Can Negotiate Anything. New York: Bantam; 1982.

Covey, S. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Franklin; 1990.

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