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Communication’s Effect on Effective Conflict Management

The process of effective conflict management is very complex.There are many elements that one must master in order to become effective at conflict resolution.In life, we will be faced with a myriad of people, all with different views and opinions; so naturally, we will be faced with conflict at some point in our lives.
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Once conflict is initiated (intentionally or not), it is important to keep a cool head and remember a few steps.

According to our textbook, there are 5 stages for successful conflict resolution which are prelude to conflict, the triggering event, the initiation phase, the differentiation phase, and the resolution phase (Cahn & Abigail, 2007). It is very important to identify and learn these stages so they can be present in our minds during times of conflict. The first stage is the prelude to conflict stage. This stage deals with the tension that arises right before a conflict becomes external. Communication plays a large role in this stage. If communication fails, conflict will ensue.

Communication can fail if one or more involved parties communicate with a negative connotation, tone, or word choice. Other things such as sharing too much information or not enough can also have a detrimental effect on communication at this point. All of these factors, although generally considered small components of communication, can lay the foundation for conflict. During this stage, the correct thing to do is to stop talking for a brief moment and examine one’s own emotions in an attempt to control them. Oftentimes, our inability to control our emotions will cloud our judgment and will only help to escalate the issue.

It is also important to deal with the preconceived notions that we may have as these too can have an impact on our judgment. According to the attribution theory, “people act as they do in conflict situation because of the conclusions they draw about each other” (Cahn & Abigail, 2007). In most cases, our body language will also betray us and will project the negative feelings we may be experiencing. Many times, we can misread a person and this may lead to what is known as false conflict. “Perception of conflict is a cognitive factor that encompasses an individual’s position toward conflict in general,”(Ben-Ari & Hirshberg, 2009).

It is for this reason that it is very important to make a serious effort to eliminate prejudgments and any negative body language that goes with it. Taking these steps during phase 1 will prevent setting a tone of hostility and will eliminate any unnecessary conflict. Phase 2 of the conflict refers to the actual event or events that trigger the conflict. This is a very important factor because by determining the trigger, we can focus on what the real conflict is and identify it. By focusing on the trigger, we can focus on the events and facts, rather than on the emotions behind the conflict.

When addressing a conflict it is important to stay professional at all times,” (“Diffusing conflict,” 2010). This will help keep the focus on the conflict itself and should help keep communication from becoming hostile. It is also important to isolate and identify the true conflict as oftentimes, resulting emotions will cloud our better judgment. Once we have a better assessment of what the true conflict is, we can move to the next phase of the process. The next phase is known as the initiation phase. During the initiation phase, it is important to state the problem. Ideally, this process should foster communication.

In order to move forward towards a successful resolution, it is important that all sides get to state their side of the conflict. Communication at this point becomes critical to solving the problem. It is also important to keep an open mind and listen to everything that is said. In many cases, others may have been offended by something we do or say without us knowing it. In order to successfully resolve the conflict, it is not enough to simply state the conflict and listen to all sides of the issue, but rather it is important to present possible solutions to the problem.

The most effective way to ensure resolution is to formulate an adequate conflict strategy. Conflict strategies are “overall plans consisting of a cluster of behaviors that people use in a specific conflict situation” (Abigail & Cahn, 2007). This should occur during the following phase which is known as the differentiation phase. During this phase, it is advised that you analyze the information exchanged in the previous stages and work to formulate an adequate conflict strategy suitable for this particular conflict. Ideally, this process should foster an open, honest communication amongst the affected parties.

It is important that everyone involved keep an open mind so that all possibilities are heard and so that we may keep our conflict strategy flexible. Again, communication plays a pivotal role in determining the success of the conflict strategy. The use of active listening and clear communication will be useful in getting all resolution ideas out on the table. It is important to be clear about what you expect from this conflict but it is of equal importance to listen to what the other party is seeking from this conflict. The final phase is the resolution phase.

During this step, the affected parties should work together to achieve a realistic resolution that will benefit both parties. Part of good communication is having good listening skills. Once you reach this step, the conflict should be de-escalated and should be much easier to find middle ground. Since all sides have stated their positions and desires in the previous steps of this conflict, it is important to remember that emotions may still be raw. Communication and respect should take precedent in this phase in order to avoid falling into the pitfalls of conflict once again.

A good resolution should fulfill certain requirements in order to be considered a success. First and foremost, the resolution should be considered fair and reasonable. Although, realistically, not everyone will get their way, everyone should be able to feel like they understand why they are not getting what they feel like they deserve. Feeling that the resolution was fair and unbiased will help prevent future conflict. The agreement should also be realistic and specific enough so that everyone may know what needs to be done and when.

In order to proceed, everyone needs to understand what their role is for this resolution. It is also important to clarify the details of the resolution such as defining whether it is self-governed or whether it counts on others to enforce it (Ohrd, 2010). Once these precedents have been set and everyone understands the terms of the agreement, resolution is complete. One additional step is to follow up. Following up is not a traditional step in the conflict management process, but it has become a very important way of “going above and beyond. It serves as a gesture of goodwill and also helps to ensure that the terms of resolution are being met.

It is also just as important to ensure that one keeps their own end of the resolution during the follow up phase as failure to do so will only cause yet another conflict to arise. As a customer service representative, I am faced with conflict on a daily basis. My communication skills have to be sharp as I am an over-the-phone representative for a national cell phone company. I deal with people from all walks of life and from all parts of the country.

Usually, when a person phones in to the cell phone company, it is because they are experiencing an issue or are upset about something. Finally understanding the affect communication has on the conflict process has helped me improve in my conflict resolution skills at work. While at work, my main tool is communication since I am over the phone and I must get my point across verbally. One of my main functions is to de-escalate a customer that is calling in upset. Often, a customer will call in screaming and yelling because of their anger and frustration. At first, it was very hard not to get upset and respond in a similar manner.

I have learned that I am the face of the company and in the customers’ minds, I am the company itself so the conflict is not with me personally, but rather the company. With this in mind, I realize how important it is for me to keep my tone and word choice professional. Phase 1 is extremely important in my job because it lays the foundation for how the call will go. Once a call gets off to a bad start, it is very hard to turn it around, so I have to get it right. Phase 2 usually occurs very early on in the call since the customer calling already knows what their conflict is.

It is my job to actively listen to what issues the customer is experiencing and then move on to phase 3 so that I may analyze what the customer said and identify the problem. Although most customers are very straightforward with stating the problem, sometimes even they are not sure about what the real conflict is. They only know the issues they are experiencing. One common example of this is when a customer calls in to cancel their line because their bill is consistently high. After listening to what they feel is the problem, my phase 3 procedure is to analyze their account and identify the cause of the high bills.

On my most recent example, the cause of the high bills was minute overages. I proceeded to check their account’s history and they had consistently been going over in their minutes for months. Phase 4 of my conflict resolution in this case would involve explaining the true cause of the high bills and suggesting a plan that better fits the customer’s needs. This solution is often met with some resistance, initially, because the customer does not see the benefit for them. They see a plan with more minutes that will cost them more money, so it is my job to help the customer see the benefit of what I am proposing.

Someone who usually pays $30 in overages on average per month would benefit greatly by changing to a plan that is $10 more per month but would include enough minutes to suit their use. In order to achieve this, effective communication must take place. By phase 4, I should have already calmed the customer down, listened to their issues, and identified the problem. When presenting the solution, I must also be very careful in my tone and word choice as these are my tools to resolve the conflict. Both my tone and word choice have to project confidence and professionalism.

Customers need to feel that they are dealing with a professional who is a specialist to help them so that they can keep an open mind to what I will suggest to them. The 5th phase is the resolution phase. In this particular situation, the customer has the last word in choosing the resolution, but it is my job to steer them towards a resolution that is positive for both the customer and the company. This final process requires that we recap all of the information discussed and reinforce that the decision being made is the correct one.

This provides additional closure to help the customer feel confident that they are making an informed decision with a professional company. The last step of the conflict resolution process in this scenario is the follow-up. We have several methods of performing follow-ups with our customers. One way of following up with the customer is through our post-call surveys. Customers receive follow-up calls from our customer service department and answer a series of questions as to how their customer service representative treated them and if their conflict was solved adequately.

This is a very important step because aside from re-affirming the importance of communication with our customer, it also helps the company know what types of conflict are not being resolved efficiently. Another way that the company seeks to follow-up with our customers is by having customer service representatives perform follow-up reviews on customers’ accounts. Generally, we are given time at the beginning of our shift to review the accounts we have handled previously. We document whether or not the customer has called back within 48 hours of their last contact with us.

The theory behind this is that if we are doing an effective job of resolving conflict with the customer as a company, the customer’s issue should be resolved in one call. If the customer has called back within 48 hours of their call with you, then you did not adequately solve their issues and the conflict continued. By performing follow-up reviews, the company can keep track of your one call resolution accuracy and can coach each representative on specific types of calls that they need help on based on their one call resolution review.

This follow up review is effective in that it shows the company’s commitment to getting the conflict resolved for the customer and it also shows the company’s commitment to helping the employee succeed and improve. The process of conflict management, although complex, relies heavily on the use of effective communication. Conflict management is a part of daily life and recognizing the importance of communication will increase the rate of success in dealing with conflict. Learning to communicate clearly and openly will make mastering the art of conflict management a much more pleasant experience.

References

http://www.ohrd.wisc.edu/onlinetraining/resolution/step8.htm

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