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How do I handle conflict?

Last week, we assessed the situation of a female reader who does not get along with her boss. She wants to leave. However, she posted negative things about her boss online, something which could affect her marketability as an employee. I advised her to stay put—and to manage conflict better.

Conflict management styles

Let me now continue to address the female reader directly.

In 1974, US psychologists Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann classified conflict management in five styles:

Competing—both parties, in this case, you and your boss, are assertive and uncooperative. It’s the “I win, you lose” mind-set. This may work if you are the boss or need to exert control in a crisis, even if you become unpopular.

I don’t know if your boss has this mind-set, but since you work for her, you definitely cannot be in competing mode.

Avoiding—both parties are unassertive and uncooperative. I lose, you lose. This may work if both of you need time to cool off and any confrontation will only worsen matters. But ignoring the problem in the hope that it will go away usually makes the situation worse.

You may be using this style, but your boss, who often points out your faults, is certainly not in the avoiding mode.

Accommodating—both parties are unassertive and cooperative. I lose, you win. This may work if you have done something wrong and you want to mend fences. Since you posted negative things about your boss, you are likely a fighter.

So you are not in the accommodating mode. Neither is your boss. Bite your tongue and keep your cool in your next meeting. The downside is you feel like a stressed out martyr.

Compromising—both parties are sometimes assertive and sometimes cooperative. I win some, you win some. This may work if both parties are on almost equal ground, and each needs the other for his or her own end.

Have you ever thought that even if your boss seems to be hard on you, she may feel that you are worth the investment in time and effort?

Think about it—you might be useful to your boss in some way. You are not her rival, and you would not have lasted 10 years if she wanted you out.

Reflect on your strengths and analyze how you can help your boss accomplish company goals. If you do well, then it reflects positively on her, too.

The only problem with the compromising style is that both parties may just tend to always look for the easiest way out, and complex issues never get resolved. But in your case, this mind-set is a good one to start with.

Collaborating—both parties are assertive and cooperative. I win, you win. This style works best in the long run, because problems get tackled effectively and everyone gains respect.

But true collaboration requires time and effort. Since your situation is urgent, try the compromising mode first.

Book launch

Come to the Inquirer’s launch of “All in the Family Business,” a compilation of my columns, on Dec. 10, Sunday, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at National Bookstore (NBS) Glorietta. Xandra Ramos of NBS, Catherine Tiu of Akari, and Steven Cua of Welcome Supermart will discuss best practices in their family businesses. See you!

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