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Resolving Workplace Conflict With an Assertive Approach

By Tammy Swed

Conflict often arises as the result of differing needs, opinions, goals, and priorities. Without a sound approach to conflict resolution in the workplace, employees who are in conflict may become less inclined to collaborate.

People may take different approaches to handing a challenging situation, but not every set of behaviors will be effective. You will be best served if you assess the potential consequences of different approaches to conflict management. As described below, the American Management Association seminar Responding to Conflict: Strategies for Improved Communication presents the characteristics of three approaches: aggressive, passive, and assertive.

Conflict Resolution Behaviors

An aggressive approach to conflict management may damage your relationship with the other party. A passive approach to handling conflict may affect your credibility and put your reputation at risk. However, when conflict is managed assertively, it can have a positive effect and be used to your advantage in the workplace. Consider:

Aggressive behavior (I win/You lose). Opting to resolve a conflict in an aggressive manner may help you achieve your goals in the short-term, but the approach will most probably cause alienation from others and feelings of frustration, bitterness, and isolation.

Aggressive behavior is characterized by:

  • a need to express your feelings, needs, and ideas at the expense of others
  • standing up for your rights but ignoring the rights of others
  • messages that are often delivered in a hostile and self-defeating manner.

An aggressive approach harms relationships and diminishes trust.

Passive behavior (I lose/You win). You may choose to avoid the unpleasant situations caused by conflict. However, when you don’t express your position, your needs are not met. This may lead to frustration and a buildup of anger.

Passive behavior is characterized by:

  • not expressing your own feelings, needs, or ideas
  • ignoring your own rights
  • allowing others to infringe upon them
  • inhibitions and self-denial that result in anxiety, disappointment, anger, and resentment.

A passive approach ignores your needs and damages your credibility and reputation.

Assertive behavior (I win/You win). An assertive response honors you and others. You express your position, needs, and feelings in a respectful way and open a dialogue with the other person.

Assertive behavior can be characterized by:

  • expressing your feelings, needs, and ideas
  • standing up for your legitimate rights in ways that do not violate the rights of others
  • feelings of confidence and self-esteem and a reduction of conflict.

Responding to conflict assertively increases the likelihood of achieving your goals. Even if the results aren’t initially perfect, this approach leads to feelings of self-worth because you are being straightforward. Self-confidence improves and relationships become more open and honest.

Tammy Swed is a learning solutions manager at American Management Association who responsible for business excellence for women and training seminars.

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