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How to Build Conflict Competence for Remote Resolution

Pip Gwynn, Director, Insight HRC
March 17, 2021

We all experience conflict. In fact, conflict is crucial for making great decisions, building trust and moving teams forward. We can all choose how we respond in conflict situations – taking either a constructive or destructive approach. However, we are often not aware that we’re doing this – we become stuck in proving that we’re right, in not upsetting or angering the other person, in making assumptions about what other people want or need from us.  

Conflict is also a common occurrence in the workplace. With most workplaces operating remotely during the pandemic there is an increased risk of conflict as research shows that virtual teams can be more prone to this. 

“Conflict in virtual teams is more likely to be negative for performance and is more likely to escalate.” Lindred Greer, a Professor of o rganizational behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business.  

 

Understanding conflict 

The most common cause of conflict is differences in personality styles or working styles, management styles, tasks and behaviours.  

Lack of communication is one area of remote working that creates, or exacerbates, conflict. Meaning and emotions can often get lost in emails or hastily typed messages sent via Microsoft teams, slack and other messaging platforms. This type of virtual communication can be more impersonal so it encourages a back and forth dialogue that can escalate more quickly than during in-person encounters. This is known by business psychologists as “flaming”. 

At Insight we work with the Mediation Training Institute's Conflict Competence model and we believe that conflict can be positive and lead to better results (within an organisation) when it is approached constructively. People with a strong sense of self-awareness are better positioned to develop conflict intelligence and competence. 

 

Conflict is inevitable 

According to the CIPD’s2020 report on conflict employees are almost twice as likely to experience bullying than harassment at work than they were 3 years ago. 

We tend to see conflict as a negative but it can lead to better results. To overcome conflict we need to recognise the importance of valuing different perspectives –diverse teams can have more conflict but are also more likely to perform better. 

Conflict intelligence starts with self -awareness. How we handle those differences leads to positive or negative experiences of ‘conflict’. We don’t always register the positive experiences as ‘conflict’ because we are primed to view conflict as negative and destructive. 

 

Conflict and Resilience are strongly linked 

Managing conflict situations well is about managing our own emotional and instinctive responses in order to be constructive. Building resilience gives us the ability to bounce back from the feelings of stress and anxiety that we develop from conflict.   

Understanding our emotions and developing emotional agility can help us to respond more rationally and to interpret others’ intentions more positively. However, managing our emotions takes significant energy so again, building our resilience and our wellbeing can help boost our energy. 

 

Managing Conflict 

To manage conflict effectively it’s best to look at developing conflict competence. 

Conflict competence can be defined as  

‘the ability to develop and use cognitive, emotional and behavioural skills that enhance productive outcomes of conflict while reducing the likelihood of escalation or harm’ Mediation Training Institute 

You can develop conflict competence by focusing on these 3 core skills: 

 

1. Personal resilience

Work on improving your self-awareness and maximising your energy. Build a support toolkit for this purpose. 

2. Emotional Agility 

Emotional intelligence support this. Having better control, more civility and working to support others. 

3. Positive Communication  

Listening is the best way to be able communicate in a positive manner. Use positive psychology and build your influencing skills. 

 

 

PipGwynn 
Director  
InsightHRC  

 

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