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Competent in dealing with conflicts

Who hasn't experienced emotions that raise blood pressure and cause stomach cramps, such as anger, rage, a sense of injustice, the feeling of being ignored, inferiority, etc. All of these can come up in the context of a conflict. Often, you get into a conflict quicker than you'd like - whether in traffic, at the supermarket checkout, in your private life or, yes, in your professional life. Haven't you often wished you had reacted differently in a conflict situation? Then you can be happy. Because dealing with conflict can be learned. It is a skill that can be developed.


Good conflicts are the starting point for better cooperation
Christiana Scholz: "Good conflicts are the starting point for better cooperation."

The term "conflict" is derived from the Latin "confligere", which can be translated as "to meet" and "to fight". Today, the term "conflict" is primarily understood to refer to interpersonal situations in which at least two or more people, or even entire groups, societies or even states, get into an argument due to different interests, values or expectations. Depending on the dynamics or conflict behavior of those involved and the phase of the conflict, it can be resolved or it can escalate.


First of all, not every conflict can be resolved. Unfortunately! The first basic requirement is the willingness to do so on the part of all parties to the dispute. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. However, if there is a willingness to resolve the conflict, there are numerous options and interventions that can be fully exploited with the help of professional support from a mediator. To prevent this from happening in the first place, it makes sense to develop your own conflict management skills. In a business context, where conflicts can cause high costs (for example: lack of productivity, sick leave and even fluctuation), in addition to establishing a positive conflict culture, it makes sense to promote the development of all employees in terms of their individual conflict management skills. After all, "where there's sawing, there's shavings" and where teams work together, different opinions sometimes arise.


Well-resolved conflicts not only prevent the emergence of unnecessary, high costs, but can also be the starting point for good or even better cooperation.


So far so good. But now comes the "but"... I am often asked: "Yes, but, in my role as managing director, manager or HR manager, how do I know whether there are conflicts in my organization and what the conflict management skills of my employees are like?" A legitimate question to which there are clear answers.

 

Identify conflicts as such

In principle, certain key figures, such as the rate of sick leave, fluctuation or a drop in sales in certain areas, can already be an indication of conflicts. In addition, conflicts can be identified through employee discussions, regular anonymous employee surveys and targeted exit interviews. The regular and at the same time holistic view of the different indicators is the key to identifying conflicts at an early stage. If changes are noticed, they must be quickly questioned, analyzed and appropriate measures taken. A simmering conflict usually does not resolve itself, but can cause really big and possibly irreparable damage.

 

Measuring conflict competence

There are numerous test procedures that can be used to determine the conflict behavior practiced. For example, the Thomas model (Thomas KW, Kilmann RH: Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument . Tuxedo, New York: XICOM, Inc., 1974.) can be used to determine how someone deals with conflicts. Statements can also be made about employees' conflict behavior with the help of targeted observations by trained people in daily practice or in assessment centers. However, the use of a software-supported, scientifically based competency diagnostic procedure is particularly recommended because it is uncomplicated and resource-saving and the results are meaningful, can be evaluated quickly and are comparable. One procedure that has been established on the market for more than 20 years is the competency diagnostic instrument KODE®, which not only focuses on the diagnostics themselves, but also provides targeted development recommendations and exercises for self-study. With the help of KODE®, the level of a whole bundle of sub-competencies (current status) can be determined in a single step and compared with the desired target status and with the levels of colleagues. Conflict competence should not be viewed as a competence that is detached from all other competencies, but as a cross-sectional competence that includes several sub-competencies. I will explain what these are below. At this point, it is important to mention that a cross-employee survey of the cross-sectional competence "conflict competence" is equivalent to a meaningful survey of the prevailing or lived conflict culture.

 

Conflict competence – what exactly is behind it?

“Conflict competence refers to the ability and willingness to deal with one’s own conflicts in a self-organized manner.” (Karl Kreuser, Thomas Robrecht, John Erpenbeck: Conflict competence. A structural theoretical perspective. Springer, 2012).

This definition naturally raises the question of what specific skills or competencies are needed to manage conflicts yourself. In their publication "Resolving conflicts is a matter for the boss", Barbara Kramer and Frauke Ion (2018) explain the following four competencies as the key conflict resolution competencies:

  • Self reflection,

  • Empathy,

  • Pulse control and

  • Metacommunication.

Saskia-Maria Weh and Claudius Enaux (Kienbaum at Haufe Volume 4024, 2008) consider in their book “Conflict Management. Recognizing and resolving conflicts competently” the competencies

  • Willingness to learn and change,

  • Ability to cooperate and empathize,

  • Persuasiveness and

  • Communication skills

as crucial when it comes to dealing with or resolving conflicts.

Based on the competency atlas with a total of 64 sub-competencies developed by Prof. Dr. John Erpenbeck and Prof. Dr. Volker Heyse (The competency biography. Ways of competency development. 2nd edition, Waxmann, Münster, 2007) in a multi-stage, empirically based process , the following sub-competencies are to be added in the competent handling of conflicts:

  • from the competency area of activity and action competence, resilience,

  • from the area of technical and methodological competence a certain degree of judgment, objectivity and systematic methodical approach as well as

  • of course the “ability to resolve conflicts” in the area of social-communicative competences.

In the following illustration, the sub-competencies mentioned are assigned to the four basic competencies of the competency atlas, from which a target profile can then be derived, which in turn can be compared with the actual profiles of the workforce members using software support.




A target profile created with KODE® based on this with the actual profiles compared is as follows:


By comparing the target profile with the actual profiles of each employee, it is possible to identify which sub-competencies need to be developed individually and which sub-competencies need to be designed as a collective measure.

 

In this example, this means:

  • Individual development measures: Example of the person with the half-full circle on the left as a symbol: ability to resolve conflicts, ability to understand, ability to communicate and ability to cooperate;

  • Collective development measures: The topic of resilience should be addressed as a collective development measure, since the competence levels of all employees lie outside or on the left side of the target corridor.

 

Develop conflict management skills in a targeted manner.

Competence development requires the acquisition of a certain amount of knowledge and the familiarization with and practice of certain methods, but it clearly goes beyond that and into the application in concrete practice. In this practical stage of learning, the development of new competencies is most successful when learners receive direct feedback from superiors, trainers or directly from customers, for example.


For individual measures , a competency development program with theoretical inputs, concrete tasks and reflection questions, as well as book recommendations for individual processing is available for each sub-competency. However, the transition to practice and the associated learning support should be organized or carried out regularly by the manager.


For collective development measures (in our example, this would be the sub-competency "resilience"), a sequence of joint input and reflection sessions is recommended, with the completion of real practical tasks in between (workplace learning), for example the application of learned practices in the context of recognizing a conflict between team members or the use of de-escalating phrases in customer discussions. These are then discussed in the group so that people learn not only on the basis of their own practical experience, but also from each other in the sense of social learning.

 

Conclusion

Conflict culture and conflict competence can be measured and developed.

 

And finally: step-by-step recommendations for conflict-ready companies

  1. Anchor conflict culture in the corporate strategy in order to visibly anchor its importance

  2. Define and communicate conflict competence individually for the organization

  3. Define sub-competencies of conflict competences and desired characteristics (target profile)

  4. Conduct competency diagnostics (determine current profiles)

  5. Comparison of target and actual profiles (gap analysis)

  6. Derivation of individual and collective development measures from the gap analysis

 

Good luck!



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