Where two or more are gathered over extended periods of time, conflicts are bound to arise in their midst. Workplaces are usually stressful settings, and personal conflicts between co-workers can be both a source and consequence of this stress. When you deal or interact with people, conflicts are inevitable and while disputes and conflicting opinions are natural, even healthy, in work relations, conflict can cost your organisation productivity, income and employee satisfaction.
Understanding the nature of conflict, investigating fibs, and acquiring simple conflict-resolution skills can reduce friction and their undesirable toll on work satisfaction and productivity. Reasons for hostility at work range from poor communication to personality clashes to ineffective leadership. Whatever the reason, early intervention is the key to handling conflicts so they don’t turn out to be full blown crises. How then can managers and even co-workers deal with potential conflict situations?
- Acknowledge that there is a problem: This involves accepting that there is a misunderstanding at hand, assessing the nature of the situation and seeking the most suited conflict management approach. Give each party a chance to outline the problems they have from their point of view. Find a resolution for each issue – how does behaviour need to be adjusted by either or both parties in the future to avoid a relapse of dispute? Get both parties to agree and move forward.
- Handle it at the dispute stage: Unlike conflicts, disputes are usually one-off occurrences. If a dispute however goes unresolved, it can cause a conflict situation. This state of affairs, if left unsettled, can escalate quickly and create a potentially hostile workplace condition. As a result, managers must get involved as early as possible and try to diffuse and resolve any disputes to the satisfaction of all parties involved.
- Try to be more accommodating: This involves allowing your co-worker’s needs to be met, often at the expense of your own. This is a suitable conflict management strategy if you have no stakes in the issue, or if you have little control in the relationship or situation. Also, allowing the other person to have his/her way once in a while may preserve or even foster a relationship. However, being too accommodating too often can impair your position to the point where your voice is never heard. The smart thing to do is to pick your battles; choose the issues that you simply can’t compromise on and let other things slide.
- Be receptive to compromise: Holding frantically to a die-hard grudge isn’t likely to yield many benefits in a workplace conflict. Don’t tackle a resolution meeting with this kind of take-no-prisoners mentality. Instead, create room for compromise. It’s about giving up some ground in order to gain other ground elsewhere. You win some, you lose some. Your readiness to compromise shows that you aren’t allowing negative emotions dictate your actions or hamper your professional objectivity.
- Prevention is better than cure: While it is nearly impracticable to prevent all conflicts in the workplace, there are some tactics that can be considered in order to curtail it and the resulting impact on production and performance. These include reviewing of dispute/conflict resolution policies (either updating or creating one where none exists), staff conflict resolution training which should include role playing tasks, assessment of team consistency and fostering open discussion forums where issues of potential conflict can be raised and team building activities which can help create bonds and break down blockades can be performed.
A conflict-free workplace would be a beautiful place indeed. However, it’s just not possible to avoid conflict entirely. Consequently, strong management policies and clear resolution processes should be put in place in order to handle these conflicts as they arise as well as contain any resulting crisis.