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What's your conflict-resolution mode?Improve your lot by honing your people skills

This tip will help you identify and work with the different conflict-resolution modes -- accommodation, avoidance, collaboration, competition and compromise.

Mention the word "offshore" in certain circles anymore and brows will surely furrow. Every quarter brings news of more high-tech jobs being shipped overseas. The March 1, 2004, issue of Business Week investigates this dubious development with a special report entitled, "Software -- Will outsourcing hurt America's supremacy?" The article features research done by Foote Partners that shows a troubling trend: In the past two years, salaries of application developers have fallen by 17.5%, database engineers by 14.7% and system administrators by 5.4%, in part due to the threat of offshore competition.

Trying to compete on price with developers from India, Russia and other such countries is a losing proposition. Successful stateside IT practitioners must therefore employ different strategies -- such as honing their people skills -- if they want to improve their lot. Of the many skills necessary for succeeding in business, perhaps the most all-inclusive is conflict resolution. In 40+ years of collective consulting, we have yet to encounter a conflict-free IT team. This tip will introduce a framework for understanding conflict, as well as some examples and prescriptions to help you master the art of conflict management.

Most IT people crave frameworks by nature. Ours is a complex world that we seek to simplify through structure. We use frameworks for architecture, data, program and project management. We use them for a better understanding of personnel issues. For conflict resolution, one of the best frameworks we have used in working with IT teams is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI).

The TKI outlines five conflict-resolution modes while offering a test designed to help people recognize their own personal style -- and thus, which modes they will tend to use most often. A simple Web search will yield many companies that offer the TKI test, which is accompanied by a report that analyzes your answers. Taking the test will help you understand your personal style, which in turn can help you better utilize all five modes of conflict resolution.


The five conflict-resolution modes:

Each mode consists of a certain amount of assertiveness (the degree to which someone seeks to satisfy their own needs) and/or cooperativeness (the degree to which someone seeks to satisfy the needs of others). Each mode has a different goal: with accommodation, the goal is to yield; avoiding seeks to delay; the goal of collaborating is to find a real win-win; compromising seeks a middle ground; with competing, the goal is to win. Each mode has its proper place and function, yet each can be misused: either too much or not enough.

Consider this hypothetical conflict: Your manager or client leaves a message on your voicemail asking for a deliverable that would prevent you from meeting another deadline. Would you simply pretend that you didn't get the message in time (avoid)? Would you stay after-hours to get both assignments done (accommodate)? Would you call the person back and tell them you couldn't oblige (compete)? Would you fulfill the new request at the expense of the existing one (compromise)? Or would you work with the person to find a solution that would satisfy all needs (collaborate)?

Of course, every situation is unique. In the hypothetical example above, which route you'd take would depend heavily upon who left the message and what the assignments were. It's important to note, however, that most people default to one or two modes, thus overusing them while under-utilizing the others. This results in some sub-optimal decisions that ultimately create more conflict than they resolve.

There are many valid reasons why people default to certain modes. Assertive people tend to compete. Submissive types typically accommodate. Shy folks often avoid. People who genuinely enjoy working with others will usually collaborate or cooperate. The key to remember is that under-utilization of various modes will deprive you of valuable options. Any baseball manager will tell you that a pitcher with four good pitches will generally fare better than a hurler with only one or two. A good curveball complements a great fastball, and both become more valuable with the threat of a well-timed change-up or knuckle-ball.

So how do you diversify your mode usage? First, figure out your own style -- and be honest. Then, spend some time contemplating the styles of other people in your working world: bosses, assistants, clients, colleagues. Reflect on the differences and similarities, person to person, team to team. Armed with this information, you'll be much better positioned to assess the conflicts that come your way, or that you create -- even if accidentally.

When conflict does arise, be sure to think before acting. Herein lies the,289142,sid41_gci953237,00.htmldistinction between conscious thought and habit. When we invest the time to reflect on a course of action before taking it, we open the door to options that may not come to mind immediately. And we all know that old habits die hard.

You may find that you need considerable practice to effectively use a mode that doesn't come naturally to you. But the more you do it, the better you'll get. And the more you reflect on your results, the more context you'll have with which to assess future disputes. Learning how to effectively resolve conflict is a lifelong process, one that requires genuine consideration and plenty of practice. Most people don't wake up one day, suddenly able to settle disputes harmoniously. Rather, they improve over time as they learn new techniques and put their skills to the test.

The next five tips will explore each of the conflict-resolution modes, offering insight into which skills they require, when to use them and when to avoid them. The dangers of over-use and under-use will also be outlined. If you have any interesting anecdotes about conflict in the workplace, definitely send us an e-mail. We'd love to hear about your experiences.


Choose your conflict-resolution mode:

About the authors: Maureen Clarry and Kelly Gilmore Dignan are co-owners of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network.

CONNECT is the only company that uses a workforce effectiveness approach called Human Performance Optimization™, to connect their clients with the best Information Technology consultants to solve specific business problems. CONNECT optimizes IT personnel performance through management consulting and training around organizational issues related to IT.

CONNECT was featured in The Data Warehousing Institute's (TDWI ) Best of Business Intelligence 2003 for an article entitled, "Predictable Pitfalls, Paths to Partnership." CONNECT is on the faculty of TDWI and teaches regularly on leadership issues related to data warehousing. Other TDWI publications authored by CONNECT include: "10 Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Data Warehouse Team, 10 mistakes to avoid when choosing a data warehousing consultant and How to choose a data warehousing consultant. CONNECT also participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for The Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

CONNECT was recognized as the 2000 South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, and has been listed in the Top 100 Women Owned Businesses, the Top 250 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado, and by the Denver Business Journal as one of Denver's Forty Under 40 Business Leaders.

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