Techniques that may be used to manage and resolve conflict in the workplace
“Well-managed conflict can also be constructive, helping to ‘clear the air’, releasing emotion and stress, and resolving tension, especially if those involved use it as an opportunity to increase understanding and find a way forward together out of the conflict situation.”
As I have touched on already, managing and resolving conflict in the workplace requires good communication skills, in particular the ability to listen. Allowing an employee to air their concerns or voice their opinion often helps to clear the air.
It is vital that the information communicated is noted and, if required, action taken. There is little point in a manager taking the time to listen to a complaint if they are unable to understand what they are being told and then consequently fail to take relevant action to resolve the source of conflict.
Creating a level playing field
Brian V. Moore, team-building expert and founder of Celebrating Humanity, says it’s important to create a level playing field where each person feels as though they can speak without being ridiculed or embarrassed. This allows each party to voice their concerns or problems to enable all sides to understand the cause of conflict and to better understand how to resolve it.
Getting to the root cause of the problem
As previously discussed, listening is vital in helping managers to understand the causes of conflict. One-on-one and group discussions can help to determine the cause of a problem, thus providing important information to enable managers to clear the air and resolve problems within the work environment.
In addition, getting to the root cause of a problem can assist in devising an actionable plan to prevent the problem or failure from reoccurring as well as sharing learnings and best practices so that other teams or individuals can avoid making the same mistakes.
Encouraging understanding of differences in personalities
Everyone has their own personality traits, and so their work and management styles can differ. People differ. Encouraging understanding of differences in personalities helps us to appreciate how other people may deal with a task and encourage tolerance and understanding. This can be particularly useful when dealing with different cultures, ethnicities and social groups.
Finding common ground – negotiate!
Negotiation is a skill which we use daily in many parts of our lives.
According to marsdd.com, negotiation is a “means to an end”, which involves “three basic levels of negotiation: power, rights and interest”.
- Power: Negotiations that rely on power often involve threats and coercion. This is not a long-term strategy as it has a negative impact on the future of the relationship between parties.
- Rights: This type of negotiation is based on contracts and precedent and often leads to legal action, which can be expensive and time consuming.
- Interest: Interest-based negotiations are what you should strive for. They often involve good communication and collaboration, resulting in win-win situations for both parties.
Just as in creating a level playing field, using negotiation allows all parties to express their interests so that these can be included (and if possible achieved) in the conflict resolution process. In addition, effective negotiation can help form constructive relationships between employees and help in forging long-lasting relationships.
Defining Acceptable Behaviour
Defining acceptable behaviour is vital for all business. All employees must clearly understand what is expected of them at all times when representing the company, which in turn can ensure that company expectations prevent incidents of bullying or harassment, and define an ethical climate for all employees. It also helps to promote a level playing field of all employees.
In addition to assisting management of conflict, defining acceptable behaviour can assist in a company’s grievance process and as a matter of last resort define the process for dismissing a member of staff, if required.
Encouraging all parties an opportunity to participate in the problem-solving process
Promoting participation is key in allowing all employees to put forward their ideas and voice their concerns. At the same time, it allows managers and other employees to hear a point of view which they may not have appreciated or have not previously considered. Participation also helps to build a consensus.
Participation allows information to be shared between staff. This could, for example, mean that someone serving customers on the shop floor is able to participate a method to management which could speed up the process in servicing customers. It may also mean that if there is a concern or potential source of conflict, that it can be extinguished quickly through managers listening to and understanding the information being communicated. In turn, this can help to build credibility within managers and teams.
Promoting teamwork helps to build relationships between colleagues through joint and open planning, agreed strategy management, agreed methods of achieving goals and achievement sharing – all of which help to reduce conflict when managed correctly. It is also an excellent way of combining the talents and skills of multiple people to help achieve goals quickly and to a high standard.
By considering the facts, assumptions, beliefs and decision making that lead to other people’s positions, the group will gain a better understanding of those positions. Not only can this reveal new areas of agreement, it can also reveal new ideas and solutions that make the best of each position and perspective. All of these benefits help to reduce and manage conflict.
In my opinion, eliminating conflict as early as possible is vital in preventing problems becoming deep-rooted and also in preventing negative emotions becoming a greater problem.