Handling Conflict II

Frank Newberryin Consultancy

FrankNewberry09Web.jpgWe explored, in Part 1, how conflict at work can often be linked to people's expectations not being met. For example, people might get frustrated or fearful when they are not getting what they want - when they want it. The same can happen when they see others not pulling their weight in the work team.

How do turfcare professionals handle conflict?

I have, on a regular basis over the past 20 years, been able to test the turfcare professional's response to conflict at work. Let's look first at our options in conflict situations. For this I am grateful to Kenneth W. Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann whose ideas have helped us to understand how we can handle conflict more effectively.

They identified five modes or ways of responding to conflict situations. The five modes are Compete, Collaborate, Compromise, Avoid and Accommodate.


During which you go all out to win the conflict knowing that you might lose everything.

How it's done: You promote only your own cause and only your version of the other person's cause. You know best.

You threaten the other person directly or issue ultimatums to secure agreements quickly.

Positive aspects: You stick up for yourself.

Negative aspects: You don't let others stick up for themselves.

- or WIN/WIN

During which you go all out for a win-win so that both sides achieve the outcomes they want.

How it's done: You promote the other person's cause as enthusiastically as your own. You want best outcome. You prefer to treat conflict as a problem to be solved by understanding all sides of the argument.

Positive aspects: You stick up for yourself and let others do the same.

Negative aspects: Others (especially competers) can take advantage.


During which you acknowledge that a win-win might not be possible, so you show a willingness to negotiate.

How it's done: You promote the idea of negotiating the best outcome. You prefer to demonstrate that regular negotiating is a valid way of dealing with differences. If you do not get what you want the first time, there is always next time.

Positive aspects: You let people negotiate as equals.

Negative aspects: Others (especially competers) can take advantage.


During which you seek to avoid a conflict by not being available or by denying that there is a conflict.

How it's done: You promote the notion that there is no conflict. You prefer to build or preserve harmonious working relationships by never getting into conflict, or by never admitting that there is a conflict (even when there is).

Positive aspects: You can delay the conflict until you are ready for it.

Negative aspects: Others can lose respect for this approach, and for you.

- or GIVE IN

FrankNewberry.jpgDuring which you seek to evade a conflict by letting the other side win a conflict at work.

How it's done: You deliberately or inadvertently give people the impression that you will offer no resistance in any conflict situation at work. Harmony at work is seen as being more important to you than getting your own way.

Positive aspects: You can achieve harmony at work.

Negative aspects: Others may think you do not really care about anything.

Armed with twenty years of research results, I recently asked a group of sixty turfcare professionals to try and guess which of the above modes were most and least preferred by people in the profession.

I had to double check their responses, which showed that a clear majority believed that the COLLABORATE option was the most preferred and AVOID was the least preferred when, in fact, the opposite was true.

We may talk a good game but, when push comes to shove, turfcare professionals prefer to AVOID conflict situations. Cue embarrassed looks in the seminar room on the day. Worse news was to come when ACCOMMODATE proved to be the second highest preference over the years.

Both AVOID and ACCOMMODATE are the pre-eminent choices of turfcare professionals by a considerable margin.

Now, COLLABORATE and COMPETE have often scored highly amongst managers in the profession, but not as high as AVOID and ACCOMMODATE. There will be more about this, and what to do to improve, in Part 3.

A big element of achieving better performance is better understanding and preparation.

It has been observed that conflict in the workplace goes through four distinct phases. Here are the four phases, with some tips, on what might help slow down or eliminate conflict.

Phase 1: Frustration and resentment build up on both sides of the conflict

Phase 1 kicks in when people's expectations are not being met, and frustration increases on both sides. If you are one of the people in the conflict situation then Phase 1 is a great place to try and nip it in the bud.

You can do this by paying close attention to the responses of other the person. Listen carefully, particularly if you are making new demands of the person. Are they accepting reluctantly? If so, ask the person what problems they will have with your request, and what might stop them doing it for you on time. Seek to give the person the impression that you are on their side.

Phase 2: Both sides take up their own positions

In Phase 2, clear lines are drawn when people define the problem only in their own terms. In this phase, people withdraw from any debate in order to establish a position they can defend. After this has happened positions are more likely to be adhered to rigidly. However, you may not be aware that this is taking place, so stay in touch!

Phase 2 could be your last opportunity to nip the conflict in the bud. Again, if you are one of the people in the conflict you should re-double your efforts to demonstrate that you are on the other person's side. Show empathy for any feelings they might express.

Phase 3: Commitment and 'stereotyping' grow

In Phase 3, people's commitment to their own cause has grown and will, by now, have been tested on other people. The people they want sympathy and support from in the conflict.

In Phase 3, both sides tend to reduce complex people and situations to simple stereotypes. The other side may be categorised as being 'arrogant' or 'ignorant' or 'unreasonable'. The other side's motives are only ever seen as impure and self-serving. Little or no attempt is made to look at the situation objectively.

Conflicts can often become permanent at this point. Research suggests that, in the UK, we would rather avoid conflict at work indefinitely than take any action to resolve it.

The fear of failing in front of supporters can convince people to stay in 'silent' conflict with some people for ever; dreading the day that the other person does finally confront them.

Rather than live in fear, it would be wiser to get a third party, acceptable to both sides, to offer mediation. It would at least give the topic an airing and its (current) significance as an issue could be calibrated

Phase 4: Conflict is engaged and resolved

If we make it to Phase 4, we can expect to participate in a debate that could be over quite quickly. In the eventual showdown, people will deploy a range of conflict modes that they hope will work for them.

The aggressive will COMPETE and be forceful, hoping to get people to accommodate, the meek may well accommodate or still try to avoid. Wiser heads will seek to COLLABORATE from the outset, and may be required to COMPROMISE at some point in order to resolve the conflict.

The advice of the professionals is to deploy all five modes when appropriate. Yes, it can be appropriate to AVOID if you are caught out and you need time to think. It can even be appropriate to ACCOMMODATE sometimes, so that you can respond to a negative reality - like a recession. You can give way this time on condition that next time you get what you want.

If my research is true, and turfcare professionals do avoid conflict, then they may be doing themselves and their profession a considerable disservice. If the majority do not stick up for what they know to be right; if they do not challenge what is plainly unfair, then not only are they diminished as individuals but so is the turf care profession.

If, however, they can stand up for themselves once or twice, they will send a signal to others that they are not the soft touch that people may think they are.

It is great to be kind and good natured, as most people seem to be in the turfcare profession. But not if others use this to take advantage and exploit groundsmen and greenkeepers.

I believe that, with the right preparation, there will soon come a day when all turfcare professionals will face conflict at work with skill and confidence.

In part three Frank will consider how we can prepare ourselves for a conflict that we cannot avoid.

Frank Newberry has been helping people in the turfcare sector to get better results for over 20 years. If you are facing a conflict situation, and if you think it might help to speak to someone, you can contact Frank by e-mail or by telephone via the contact tab of his personal website, which is www.franknewberry.com

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