The 5 Biggest Mistakes In Conflict Resolution

by Natascha Zeljko

Why harmony isn’t helpful for the team, why a clarifying conversation is overestimated and what the argument about untidy coffee cups really means. A short guide by Christian Wirth, the expert for conflict resolution, crisis communication and communication consulting

Error no. 1: The other is to blame for the conflict

To look for the reason of the conflict in the other person is, so to speak, the mother of all misunderstandings. I always explain this by using an example of the coffee cup. Everyone who has ever worked in a team knows this. There is the guy who drinks his coffee in the morning and puts the cup in the dishwasher. And then there’s the colleague who leaves his cup on the table because he’ll be drinking another coffee in two or three hours.

So, why put it away? And this is where the conflict ignites. The point is: these people don’t just have different habits. They have – and this is crucial – different values and beliefs. One was brought up on the principle that order is important. The other one – not. So the problem lies neither with the colleague who does not put away the cup, nor with coffee cups per se. The conflict is with oneself. Understanding that is crucial. To reflect and ask yourself: Why is it so important to me that people put away their coffee cup? It’s about different expectations that have to do with different values and beliefs. And in a team there always will be different beliefs. That is exactly the foundation of conflicts.

Error no. 2: A conflict is resolved after a clarifying conversation

This is also a widespread misunderstanding that persists in other areas of life, such as relationships; That somehow after this one clarifying conversation, the conflict is settled once and for all. It also occurs when management has unfulfilled expectations towards the employee; Everything is supposedly discussed and yet it starts all over again at some point. Sometimes even a small spark is enough and the conflict escalates again. That is why it is important to stay on the topic and work on it.

Error no. 3: Conflicts are always bad

The interesting thing about conflicts is that they show you the respective view of the world. This is why they can actually be valuable for personal development. If you take the example of the coffee cup again: This trivial story shows, that we have different values. That’s why a conflict is not bad per se. On the contrary – it helps to move forward, because we become aware of certain attitudes and beliefs. It also raises questions: Are these attitudes positive, do they bring us further or do they rather hinder our progress? To come back to the subject of relationships: Here, too, there is an assumption that in good partnerships there is no fighting. Reality is different: Arguments can help to develop together.

Error no. 4: A workshop will fix it

As a supervisor or a coach, you are often faced with a conflict of objectives. A classic example: Sales cannot cope with marketing or vice versa. Or doctors, as I experienced in my former professional practice, are not coping with the nursing staff. The most obvious thing to do? Workshop – bang, problem solved. Then, after two or three months you are back at the starting point and conflicts start all over again. This shows that conflicts must be looked at much more deeply and the values and beliefs distilled in teams. These can be individual, but also affect a company as a whole. For example, in teams that have worked together for a long time or have built something together. It can be very difficult for new colleagues. The crucial thing in this scenario is to be transparent.

The more openly one identifies the conflicts and the underlying beliefs, the easier it is to deal with them. Let me take the example of the coffee cup again: If I know why something is so important to my colleagues, I can react to it more quickly. I can either accommodate them, or, and this can also be the case, I continue to ignore it. In that case I deliberately do not want to find a solution.

Error no. 5: Every conflict can be solved

We are all adults, we are all reasonable – so you can talk about anything and solve any conflict. Unfortunately – no. You can do some things, yes, you can get coached or use a mediator, but sometimes there are issues that simply cannot be resolved. If people differ in decisive values, the only possible solution is a separation. A cosmopolitan, liberal person will never get along with a racist, to show a striking example. However, there are also some differences, that might not be as drastic yet they still cannot be reconciled in the end. Take two founders who start a company together. There can be a decisive criterion, for example how to define success – for one person it is financial success, for another it is happiness or fulfilment. You won’t necessarily be able to bring the two together. Over time, one of the two will begin to cause conflicts. This is quite predictable. That is why it makes sense to clarify the value structure at the beginning before taking such a drastic step as founding a company.

You can find more information about Christian Wirth here: www.deeskalation-wirth.at