ThinkstockPhotos-103802438Conflict at work is like that one cobweb you walk into when you go to your car in the morning — you’re not sure how it got there, but you know it’s sticky and finely woven.  Much like that cobweb, conflict at work seems to have many different layers that the take time to work through and clean up. The way you handle conflict is the difference between being a respected leader, or a leader that people ignore and walk right through.

Employees tend to believe that their boss was born knowing how to handle conflict, and they are right. We were all born with an innate way to manage conflict when put into a leadership role. The Thomas-Kilmann’s Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) explains that everyone’s conflict style comes down to five distinct types:

  1. Competing. This person is assertive and uncooperative and will win at all costs, even at others expense, when he is wrong.
  2. Accommodating. The complete opposite of the Competing type. This person will sacrifice their own concerns for those of others.
  3. Avoiding. Doesn’t want to deal with conflict. Will sidestep, postpone and withdrawal to avoid issues.
  4. Collaborating. Opposite of the Avoider. He/she will work to find a resolution that makes everyone happy.
  5. Compromising. This person will seek the middle ground in a conflict. A blend of both assertive and cooperative, this person won’t get to the root of the issue, but will help negotiate a resolution.

Even though each one of us falls into one of these categories, we all can slip into and out of all five depending on the conflict and situation. Good leaders know when to be flexible and switch styles to get the best outcome for each case.

Here are a few suggestions on how to handle conflict, keeping the five conflict styles in mind:

Be ready to deal with conflict.
Have a plan in place even before an issue arises. Forbes.com recommends you have a step-by-step plan to face disagreements head on before they even happen. That way you have a set process in place to resolve conflicts.

Act quickly.
If you intervene early after when conflict arises, you can stop a small issue from becoming a whole office issue. This is the case when people who have a tendency to avoid conflict need to stand up and take charge, so they don’t lose the confidence of their employees.

Solve the issue, not the people.
Get to the root of the problem, and don’t let the conflicting parties get too personal when working things out. Take it behind closed doors and get them to address the real problem and not just the people involved.

Team.
As the saying goes, there is no “I” in team. It’s your job to remind those in the conflict that they are all working toward a common goal and work with them to resolve the issue.

Open door.
It’s always best to get in front of a small conflict before it becomes a monster sized issue. The best way to do this is let employees know they can come to you and voice their concerns on anything before those same employees become issues themselves.