Conflict is an unavoidable reality in the workplace, actually in all aspects of life. People don’t always agree or get along.
Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Disagreements between team members may arise in the process of figuring out the best way to accomplish a task and ultimately lead to a more effective or efficient solution. However, an essential aspect of being a good leader is understanding how to manage conflict.
Conflict management is the process by which disputes are resolved, where negative results are minimized and positive results are prioritized. Successful conflict management results in a mutually beneficial outcome that’s agreed upon by each party.
The origins of workplace conflict are diverse and could be through factors such as:
While conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can result in improved business processes and healthier relationships, conflict does need to be managed. If it is not managed, it can impede operations and create a dysfunctional working environment and can negatively impact the work atmosphere and worker satisfaction.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for conflict management as each situation will be different, from the trigger of the conflict to the parties involved; however, a manager should be able to take a birds-eye view of the conflict and apply the conflict management process that is called for in that specific situation. Conflict resolution can be achieved through:
As tempting as it may be to shut down conflict by telling people to ‘get over themselves’ or to order the conflicting people to overcome their differences, this will not resolve the source of conflict. This may lead to bigger problems in future due to the unresolved conflict and the unresolved source of the conflict.
While dealing with conflict can be disruptive and often frustrating, keep your cool and choose a suitable time and place to address the issue as soon as possible. However, don’t hesitate to take action as allowing conflicts to fester usually worsens them.
In dealing with a disagreement between parties, give each one a chance to tell their side of the story in a respectful and productive manner. Ensure that all parties have been and feel heard.
When asking questions to probe the issue further, focus on the problem, not the person. Create an atmosphere where all parties are able to speak openly and honestly and where they can make concessions without losing face. Acknowledge emotional issues as these are often at the heart of most conflict and thus will need to be resolved. However, do not allow them to take over.
Engage conflicting parties in a professional and productive manner in order to help them resolve their differences. Explore the reasons for the disagreement. Identify any misconceptions or misunderstandings which are blocking progress.
Encourage the parties to examine their own positions and identify any common ground with others.
Look for points which may be negotiable and seek win/win solutions which take the interests of all parties into account. Ask the parties to put forward preferred solutions. Put the power in their hands and invite them to propose ideas, this can help foster a more productive meeting.
If the team members who are butting heads don’t have any ideas, you can propose options without coming across as authoritarian. Invite them to provide feedback on any ideas you provide. The point is to create a collaborative atmosphere focused on problem-solving, not laying blame. Assess each option and help the parties to agree on which represents the best way forward.
If no progress is made, a period of reflection may help, but ultimately it may be necessary to bring in another manager or consider external assistance from a specialist in mediation.
Where complete consensus is impossible, aim for a way forward that is acceptable to all, even if it is not the preferred option for all parties involved.
In resolving the conflict, to the extent possible, make use of relevant policies or documents in resolving the conflict in order to ensure that the conversation is based on facts rather than perceptions.
Document the conversation as well as any solutions agreed to and get written acknowledgement of the discussion and solutions. Where required, include a specific date for reviewing the effectiveness of the discussion/agreement.
It is important to ensure that everyone is clear about what has been decided and takes personal responsibility for any actions which have been agreed.
Follow up with those involved to determine if the solution is working. Deviating from the agreement may result in further conflict.
Don’t assume a conflict is resolved after a single discussion. Continue to keep an eye on the situation and evaluate how well the solution is working. If the problem reappears it may be necessary to take further action.
It is important for managers to prevent conflict before it arises. Consider action that can be taken to improve working relationships and encourage a culture of open communication and consultation as a preventative measure. Reflect on lessons that can be learned from the conflict and the way it was handled. Assess actions that can be done differently in future; training, professional development or professional dispute resolution to be implemented.
Ensure that there is open communication and team members are provided an opportunity to voice any concerns or frustrations, manage and resolve these before they become conflict.
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, it is often the first step toward achieving improved business processes, better productivity and increased worker satisfaction. However, conflict needs to be addressed promptly, or it can become a source of disruption and sour relationships within your team. Continue to work at creating a collaborative working environment for your team through effective conflict management.
“Cooperation isn’t the absence of conflict but a means of managing conflict.” – Deborah Tannen
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