Empower youth with strategies for handling conflict in the workplace, relationships and life with insights from Franklin Templeton’s expert in conflict management.
It’s no secret that conflicts are inevitable in life and the workplace. In fact, studies show the average person spends about 2.8 hours per week dealing with problems at work.1 But as we navigate through disagreements, it’s easy to realize that avoiding them doesn't make them go away; it often makes things worse. This is why developing strong conflict resolution skills is important — especially for young adults who are building the foundations of their personal and professional lives. Being able to effectively handle differences can lead to personal growth and a more positive work environment for everyone.
To get expert advice on handling conflicts in the workplace, we spoke with Quinton Alston-Spratt, Head of Advisor Practice Management at Franklin Templeton Investments — part of The Equity Collective, a group of 27 asset management firms, partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in finance. With years of experience under his belt, Quinton shared methods for managing disagreements, conflict resolution examples and practical tips for using them in real-life situations. These insights will not only equip young adults to better manage conflicts but also empower them to become more resilient, self-aware and successful in their careers.
Conflict happens when people or groups don't agree because they see things differently or have opposing beliefs. Quinton's background in behavioral psychology helps him see that conflicts are a natural part of how humans behave. “People have their own ways of thinking and their own values, which can sometimes clash with others,” he said. “It's a bit like when you and a coworker have a conflict in the workplace, such as having different ideas about how to complete a project — finding a way to work together becomes important.”
But Quinton doesn’t believe all conflict is a bad thing. “There’s such a thing as good conflict,” he said. “A good conflict is when you have a healthy enough environment where you can put alternative thoughts on the table that are going to drive relationships forward.” Sometimes conflicts are just small bumps in the road that can actually help us learn and grow. When people don't agree, it can make them think more deeply and consider new ideas.
Changing our perspective about conflicts is just the beginning of building conflict resolution skills. The way we deal with conflicts is connected to something called emotional intelligence — that means understanding and managing our feelings.
To explain this, Quinton used a simple example. “Imagine a seesaw — The relationship between conflict and emotions is a bit like that,” he said. “When conflicts come up, our emotions can rise, just like one side of the seesaw. And as our emotions increase, our ability to handle conflicts effectively can decrease, like the other side of the seesaw.” When we can balance our emotions, it's like the seesaw being level. We can handle issues and conflicts much better.
Imagine you and your coworkers are discussing a project deadline. Some team members believe it's better to extend the deadline, while others think the current timeline is sufficient. This difference in opinions can lead to conflict in the workplace.
According to Quinton, the first step in resolving conflicts is making a healthy decision on how to move forward. “This doesn't necessarily mean everyone gets their way,” he explained, “It's about finding a way to handle the conflict in a way that helps everyone work together and find a solution that everyone can agree on.”
Quinton emphasized the importance of recognizing different conflict resolution styles that everyone uses, including competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding.3 Each style has its own pros and cons, and knowing when to use each is essential to effectively handle conflict in the workplace.
Understanding different conflict resolution styles is key for effective conflict management in the workplace. Quinton noted that people tend to have a preferred or “default” style, but it might not work for every situation. That’s why he suggested trying different approaches and having a growth mindset, to keep learning and improving.
By helping his godson step beyond his default styles and explore new solutions, Quinton was helping him build self-awareness and resilience, two necessary soft skills to succeed in life. Soft skills are abilities that help you work with other people. Practicing different conflict styles is a good way to cultivate these skills to create healthier relationships even when a conflict in the workplace happens.
One of the strategies to resolve conflict in the workplace that is often missed is to start by saying exactly what you want. Quinton said it's really helpful to know what you want before you talk about it.
Here’s another conflict resolution example: Imagine you're at your workplace, and your team is discussing which task to work on next. Instead of immediately joining in without knowing what you want, take a quick moment to think. You could say, "I believe we should focus on Task A because it's in line with our goals." When you clearly state your thoughts, it makes the conversation easier and helps your team understand your point of view.
Quinton mentioned, "Sometimes people think they've communicated, but they haven't. At Franklin Templeton, we do coaching sessions and realize there's a difference between what they said and what they thought they said." He added, "We have something called the ‘Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Order assessment (FIRO®)’ that shows the gap between how you think you're showing up and reality. It's the difference between what you say you want and what you really want."
Realizing these differences can be eye-opening. Many people don't know they're sending mixed messages. "Once you know, you can interact differently with others," said Quinton.
Picture a busy coffee shop. Two friends are talking, but their chat turns into an argument. Instead of ignoring them, you pay attention and watch how they talk to each other. “When you observe others interact, you can learn a lot from their verbal and nonverbal cues,” advised Quinton. For example, you might see one friend getting loud and upset, while the other stays calm and nods. These things show how they feel and if they're ready to solve the problem.
Watching and listening helps you see how people communicate (verbally and non-verbally) in different situations. These serve as conflict resolution examples that help you know what to do when you have your own arguments. Quinton also stressed it makes you more empathetic when it comes to solving conflicts. This is because you understand how feelings and words are connected, which helps you find solutions that work for everyone involved.
Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in helping youth develop effective conflict resolution skills, which are essential not only for personal and social situations but also for handling eventual conflicts in the workplace. Here are ways adults can start building these skills at home:
Conflicts can happen at home, with friends or even at work. But by understanding different conflict resolution styles and being flexible with them, you can learn to manage disagreements in a healthier way. Through Life and Workforce Readiness programs, Boys & Girls Club kids and teens build soft skills like resilience, emotional intelligence and empathy, which help them improve their conflict resolution skills for success in college, career and life.
Franklin Templeton Investments is a part of The Equity Collective, partner of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Life & Workforce Readiness program, helping prepare today’s young people for the workforce and life.
1Putting a Price on People Problems at Work - https://hbr.org/2016/08/putting-a-price-on-people-problems-at-work
2Youth Right Now 2023 - https://www.bgca.org/about-us/youth-right-now
3Thomas Kilmann conflict mode Instrument (TKI) - https://www.themyersbriggs.com/en-US/Products-and-Services/TKI