Workplace conflict will occur at times. Usually, it's the result of differring perceptions and methods, where neither party is right or wrong. Managers need to make sure that these conflicts don't come into the view of customers. If conflict is managed effectively and skillfully, cooperation will improve. Without effective conflict management, you cannot hope to improve performance, reduce stress, solve problems quickly, enhance teamwork, foster creativity, and increase staff morale.
To manage conflict effectively you must be a skilled communicator; an environment where open communication is allowed enables employees to discuss and resolve work issues. Ask questions and focus on problems as perceived. It may be as simple as conflicts about desk position, air temperature control, public address volume, or choice of background music, if that is what you have. Here are some points to consider:
- Acknowledge that a conflict exists. Find out what's happening and be open about the problem. Ask both parties at the same time or you'll risk the appearance of favoring one or the other. Communication that is clear, direct and honest is important.
- Let them express their views. Feelings of anger and hurt usually accompany conflict situations. Allow employees to express their emotions first, then move on to the problem solving. After the initial venting, let quiet discussion prevail.
- Define the problem. What is the problem, and what are the negative aspects on work and relationships? Is differing personalities the issue? Sometimes age difference feeds the conflict. Are there deeper underlying causes of conflict?
- Determine underlying needs. The goal is not to find who is right or wrong, but to reach a solution everybody can live with. Compromise is the rule, but sometimes you need to go beyond that. Look first for needs rather than solutions. Find out why each party is asking for their fix to the problem.
- Find common areas of agreement. Agree on the definition of the problem, and what the solution is, and understand the worst fears of the two parties. Some small changes can be helpful at the outset to give experience of some success.
Identify needs and find solutions to address those needs. Generate multiple alternatives, and determine which actions will be taken. Make sure both sides buy into actions. Silence indicates reserve, meaning no agreement. Seek to obtain real agreement from both sides. A veiled warning about continuing conflict may dampen the fire before it leads to serious actions.
- Determine follow-up you will take to monitor actions. Schedule a follow-up meeting in two weeks to determine how everybody is doing.
- What if conflict remains unresolved? Unresolved conflicts can be a disruption in operations, and other avenues may need to be explored. An outside facilitator may be able to shed light on possible solutions. When conflict becomes a performance issue, it may lead to coaching sessions, performance appraisals, or disciplinary action.
Anger - Dealing with anger, especially when it is directed to you, can be a challenge. Effective listening can help defuse anger, but when it is directed to you, it is difficult to respond definitively. Ask for staff backup to help regulate the situation. A person who is angry needs time to vent the steam that may have been building for some time. Show that you are paying attention. The person needs to know that someone is really listening to her point of view. In addition, the person needs to feel that you empathize with her and acknowledge that you understand the situation. Be attentive and patient, and the party will become less angry as she expresses herself. Be sincere as you honestly validate the situation causing anger. Finally, be calm as you hear sometimes inflammatory comments in the heat of the moment.
Conflict resolution resources ' The Conflict Resolution Center Int'l in Pittsburgh, PA is a non-profit organization promoting non-violent approaches to conflict resolution. They maintain an excellent library on line, and they offer various publications for those interested in these issues. Managing Conflict is the web page of Douglas Noll, attorney and peacemaker. His thesis is that peacemaking is the best route to follow. The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University deals with academic research into conflict management. Finally, CaseBreakers specializes in internet based criminal records and background checks.
Examples Of Workplace Conflict
You're at work. You've been assigned an exciting, highly visible project. You can't wait to get started. You arrive at your first team meeting ready to rock and roll. You take one look around and you immediately hone in on several scowling faces. Almost immediately, you are confronted and a conflict ensues. Your excitement quickly diminishes as you realize you have your work cut out for you.
Sound familiar? Maybe not exactly this scenario but I guarantee almost anyone you talk to in the workplace has encountered one form of conflict or another. You may experience this conflict one-on-one or in a team setting. Not to worry. Conflict in the workplace is not uncommon, and in fact, in some instances it is even worthwhile. That's right. It can be worthwhile particularly if you can shift the conflict to make it work to your advantage.
Why does conflict occur? Typically, conflicts arise when expectations are not met in some form, when one party perceives a threat to themselves in some way, or through simple miscommunication.
So, what can you do to manage conflict when it arises? Follow these simple steps.
1. Determine the cause. You can't solve the problem until you are sure that everyone has a mutual definition of the problem and that everyone is talking about the same problem. Gather as much data as you can. Ask for information and be sure to involve the impacted individual(s) in discussions. Ask "what else" questions to raise all of the issues and show a willingness to listen. Do not become defensive or personalize issues.
2. Collaborate on solutions. Use a "yes... and" response to focus and build on potential solutions. Avoid using a "yes... but" response, which tends to shift focus back onto the problem and away from solutions. Whenever possible, always engage key stakeholders in developing solutions. This will help facilitate buy-in when final decisions are made.
3. Provide alternative options. Whenever possible, provide choices. People tend to feel empowered when they are involved in the decision making process. This will also help you in soliciting ongoing support and champions once the final decisions are made.
4. Communicate key decisions. Develop a communication plan that communicates the decision as many times and as many ways that you feel are appropriate. This might include meeting one-on-one with those involved, announcement at a team meeting, and an email announcement or written memo to follow-up. Be sure to involve your boss (and senior management or human resources when appropriate) to reinforce and support the final decision.
5. Implement solutions. Once a decision has been made, it is important that you be assertive in the implementation of that decision. When challenged (and do expect to be challenged) be calm, re-focus on the process used to identify issues and develop solutions, and be confident in the knowledge that you have done the best you can to resolve the situation. Don't get angry or over-apologize, as this will only serve to weaken your position.
Handling workplace conflict is never easy but it is necessary if you want to be perceived as a strong leader capable of getting things done. Avoid conflict and you put yourself on a path of manipulation and distrust. Handle conflict straight on and you will earn the respect of your peers, your staff, and your boss. Even more importantly, you will feel more confident and capable, no matter what situation you find yourself in.
Both Christine Casey Cooper & Regina Barr are contributors for EditorialToday. The above articles have been edited for relevancy and timeliness. All write-ups, reviews, tips and guides published by EditorialToday.com and its partners or affiliates are for informational purposes only. They should not be used for any legal or any other type of advice. We do not endorse any author, contributor, writer or article posted by our team.
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