Last modified: 21 Sep 2016
In today’s workplace, diversity is more common than ever. People from varying backgrounds, education, interests, gender, ethnicity, religious, political views, location and more, come together to work. As such, conflicts are inevitable and as management it is part of the job to manage conflict at work. In fact, some Human Resource managers report spending 24 to 60 percent of their time resolving disputes.
As noted in ACAS, the common and possible causes of conflict include unfair treatment, poor management, lack of clarity in roles, lack of proper communication or training, poor work environment, lack of opportunities and even bullying.
In addition, differences in objectives, attitudes, emotions and perceptions can also cause conflict to arise. These may lead to a slew of issues such as a drop in motivation levels, avoidance of interaction and communication, refusal to collaborate and cooperate or simply avoid work altogether.
Over time, the accumulated pressure may also lead to stress or depression and will surely affect the overall productivity of the company. Whilst conflict cannot be avoided, it can definitely be managed.
1. Do not sweep it under the carpet
First and foremost, there needs to be recognition, acceptance and finally, the willingness to resolve conflicts. Rather than being watered down by it, conflicts can be viewed as unspoken opportunities. It is part and parcel of management’s role and it is important to keep it within control.
One thing for sure, it will not disappear without a trace. Wherever possible, document the process to avoid further disputes and to maintain an objective stand.
2. Do not pull rank to manage conflict at work
In situations such as perceived unfair treatment or lack of communication and direction, “rank” may be the very reason why conflict occurs. By enforcing these boundaries it deters involved parties to speak freely and may escalate stress in the situation.
Although pulling rank is a quick win resolution, it suppresses the problem, and forces all parties into acceptance. Long-term suppression and accumulation of grievances may lead to refusal to communicate and could spiral into undesirable behaviours, as a form of silent attack.
Some HR managers report spending 24 to 60 percent of their time resolving disputes. @EngageRocketco
3. Do not use the same strategy for all conflicts
As people are fundamentally different, they also react to different approaches. Considering the importance of goal and relationship, experts have identified five strategies to manage conflict at work.
They are to confront, compromise, collaborate, accommodate and avoid.
A confrontational style is useful in dealing with bullies and involves high emotional levels and weak relationship status.
Compromising involves bargaining and giving up some parts in order to reach a settlement for quick resolution; involves moderate to high emotional levels and relationship status.
Collaborating involves working together to achieve a win-win outcome; involves high clarity of goals and strong relationship status.
To Accommodate, is to accept without resistance; involves suppressed emotions and low relationship status.
Lastly, avoid addressing conflicts, where it may turn out to be a losing battle or in areas of formalities and traditions.
4. Do not get personal or take it personally
Conflicts arise out of differences, as such, it is key to tackle those differences rather than view it as an attack on personality or to determine who is right or who is wrong. In fact, such miscommunications or misperceptions are often the main contributors of conflicts.
Take an objective stand to manage conflict at work, listen without judgement and examine oneself on personal prejudices toward others. Resolve conflict just like a martial artist, staying centred, act but not react.
5. Do not succumb to anger
The power of negative energy in conflicts can be overwhelming at times. It may even lead to a negative spiral unleashing negative emotions from others. As management, it is necessary to keep check of one’s emotions, especially when the conflict is directed at you. In such cases, stay calm and hold the temper.
When emotions spike, conflicts are made worse. If emotions cannot be contained, it might be a better idea to delay discussions to a time where everybody has cooled down.
Take a step back to consider the main goal of the discussion; acknowledge and consider the reason for anger. For more tips on anger management, refer to Viu’s guidelines.
6. Do take a proactive role in spotting conflicts
As it is said, prevention is better than cure. It is possible to identify potential conflicts before it gets worse. Keep a look out for telling behaviours such as refusal to interact or communicate, feeling stressed out before a meeting, drop in productivity and motivation and more. Understand the causes and tackle the issue before it gets out of hand.
7. Do choose the appropriate tone and style
The tone and style of communication speak louder than the content itself. One good way to manage conflict at work, particularly to convey criticism and to solve issues, is to use the Giraffe Language.
It is a structured form of conversation that minimises, focuses on the problems to derive at a plan of action. It follows a six-step process, following an invitation to participate in the conversation.
The first step is to identify observations in neutral terms. Next, sincerely apologise, for any possible part of the conflict, recognising that everyone has a part to play.
Move on to appreciate and praise the other party and explain why it should be resolved. Describe the consequences and the desired good outcome and discuss implementable actions.
8. Do explore bigger personal motivations
Keep communication lines open and listen empathetically to identify the reasons for conflicts. The way people feel describes how a situation supports or threatens their personal motivations. With a good understanding and perhaps some aligning, conflicts can be turned into development opportunities.
9. Do set consequences for unresolved conflicts
In order for any conflicts to be successfully resolved, there needs to be the willingness of all parties to resolve it. Working from differing viewpoints, each party may not realise the consequences of unresolved conflicts to the company or even to themselves.
Without the immediate need to step out of their “comfort zone”, they may not desire to resolve anything. Management, with an overall vision, is in the best position to show and set consequences, should the situation get out of hand.
10. Do involve a third-party, when necessary
With the goal to clarify and manage conflict at work, it may be necessary to engage an external third-party, when conflicts cannot be resolved internally. A trained mediator will be able to provide an objective point of view while drawing out important information that may have been overlooked. At the working level, this may be the job of the Human Resource department.
Management’s role is to elicit optimal performance from individuals so as to keep the company profitable. With that in mind, the focus of managing conflict at work should always be on resolving the issue in “How can we do this better”, rather than “It’s your fault”.
Once settlement can be agreed on, it is time to move along and strive for better times ahead, as a team.
A.LLY is a contributor to the EngageRocket blog. A marketing buff, entrepreneur, mother and coffee addict, A.LLY has a rich background in marketing services, destinations and niche products. She has good business acumen and people relations honed from her personal entrepreneurial journey.