Conflict Resolution Approaches: Collaborating

This is the third article in my Secrets of Conflict Resolution blog series.  The series is based on my presentation of the same name that I presented at Nebraska.Code().

The agenda for this series is:

  1. Conflict in the Workplace by the Number
  2. Conflict Resolution: Setting the Stage
  3. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Collaborating
  4. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Compromising
  5. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Smoothing
  6. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Forcing
  7. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Withdrawal
  8. Understanding Group Dynamics
  9. Managing Conflict: 10 Tips to make you a Conflict Resolution Superstar

Conflict Resolution Approaches: Collaborating

The first approach we are going to look at is Collaborating which is also referred to as problem solving, confronting, integrating, and win-win style. PMI defines collaborating as incorporating multiple viewpoints and insights from different perspectives.

In this technique, the parties openly discuss differences and try to incorporate multiple viewpoints in order to lead to a consensus. This approach involves a rational problem-solving approach. More succinctly, this approach has disputing parties solve their differences by first focusing on the issues, then looking at alternative approaches, and finally selecting the base alternative.

This approach involves open and direct communication which should lead the way to solving the problem at hand. As such, this is considered to be a win-win approach.

When to Use

So what are examples of when collaborating maybe appropriate?

Consensus and commitment of others is important

The whole point of collaboration is getting consensus with everyone, so obviously a good time to use collaboration is when consensus and commitment of all the parties is important.  If done correctly you will have a win/win solution as everyone will basically get that they need.

Collaborative environment

Another probably pretty obvious time when collaborating is a good approach is when you work in a collaborative environment. If you work in an environment that facilities and incorporates agreed upon participation by those in the environment to complete tasks, then collaborating is obviously a good fit to solve conflict.

Required to address the interest of multiple stakeholders

If you need to address the interest of more than one stakeholder, then collaborating is going to be the way to go.  Let me use a personal example:  One of the products my team supports basically provides around 90% of the automation services for the Army ROTC organization.  The application’s components have multiple stakeholders that need the components to perform a certain way.  Obviously we cannot just go in and put in logic that works for one stakeholder but not another.  If we were to put in logic to support the scholarship folks, you better believe it better not interfere with how the money folks pay for those tuition payments.  As such, we are constantly collaborating with these different groups to ensure we build the right system that meets the needs of all the stakeholders.

High level of trust is present

To trust to have faith in the honestly, integrity, reliability, and competence of another. Trust with each other is important in collaborating as each party needs to know that other parties have everyone’s best interest in hand. When dealing with conflicts, if the different parties involved have a high level of trust then collaborating will work well.

Long-term relationship is important

Hand in hand with trust is long-term relationships. You cannot have long-term relationships without trust. Collaborating helps continue trust between parties and that is why it is a good approach when the long-term relationship is important.

Need to work through hurt feelings, animosity, etc.

Another time to use collaborating is when you need to work through hard feelings, animosity, etc. Even a group that has worked well with each other for a long time will have some strife. Because collaborating involves focusing on the issues TOGETHER and selecting the best alternative TOGETHER, it is a good approach when there are hard feelings because it will help those involved get away from the feelings and come up with a solution TOGETHER.

Do not want to have full responsibility

And yet another good time to use collaborating is when you do not want to have full responsibility. If you are the project manager working with two groups of developers helping them come with the correct solution you probably want to be a little separated from the responsibility of coming up with the right solution. You have your developers because they have the know-how to get things done and helping them collaborate to a solution will give them the responsibility of that outcome.


So now that we have looked at when is a good time to use the collaborating approach, let us look at some of its advantages.

Leeds to solving the actual problem

First and foremost, the collaborating approach leads to solving the actual problem. You are discussing what the issue is and alternatives to the solution which, by doing so, will allow you to solve the actual problem at hand. As you will see with some of the other approaches, you are not necessarily solving the problem that caused the conflict.

Leeds to a win-win outcome

Because you are getting all sides to agree with the solution, you get a win-win outcome. This helps people feel good about what just transpired as they having gotten at least something that they wanted or needed.

Reinforces mutual trust and respect

Because all sides work TOGETHER to come up with a solution, the collaborating approach promotes mutual trust and respect amongst the different parties.

Builds a foundation for effective collaboration in the future

While all five approaches to conflict resolution are useful in different situations, collaboration is probably the most favorable to all.  No better to have effective collaboration in the future then to build a solid foundation with successful collaboration.

Shared responsibility of the outcome

When talking about when it is a good time to use collaboration, I said that it helps when the facilitator does not want does not want to have full responsibility. As such, there is an advantage because the different parties involved are equally responsible for the outcome. Because it is a win-win style of approach, all parties involved are happy with the results.

You earn the reputation of a good negotiator

As the one moderating the involved parties to come to a solution, you will by default get the reputation of a good negotiator and by human nature that is a something we want. We naturally want to help others and that is how those involved will feel.

Outcome of the conflict resolution is less stressful

As a general rule, the outcome of the conflict will be less stressful. Because the parties are all involved in finding a solution, there is incentive to do so with little conflict so people will feel better at the end and as such there will be less stress.


Now with anything else, where there are advantages there are disadvantages.  Some of those disadvantages include:

Requires a commitment from all parties

Collaboration requires a commitment from all the parties.  There is absolutely no way collaborating works without everyone wanting it to work.  As such, everyone involved has to be committed to finding the right solution.  While in a perfect world that would be always the case, we do not live in a perfect world.

May require more effort and more time

Related, collaborating may require more time and effort than some of the other conflict resolution approaches.  Again, to do this right, you need to review the issue and then look at the alternative solutions.  That takes time.  Maybe time you just do not have.

May not be practical when timing is crucial and a quick solution or fast response is required

As such, collaborating may not be practical when timing is crucial.  If you are managing an electronic commerce application and you have a system outage 2 hours before your massive online Black Friday sale, you do not necessarily have the time to consider all the sides on how to fix an issue when there is disagreement on how to fix that issue.  Situations like this will probably require one of the other approaches.

Involved parties must continue collaborative efforts to maintain a collaborative relationship

Collaborating requires that the involved parties must continue collaborative efforts to maintain a collaborative relationship.  Why is this a caveat; well as I mentioned, collaborating requires a good time commitment which can be hard to keep up on a day-in/day-out basis.

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