When people work together in groups, there are bound to be occasions when individuals have different points of view. This can lead to disagreements which may develop into conflicts in the workplace. Whether these disagreements become full-blown feuds or instead, fuel creative problem solving, is in a large part, up to the person in charge.
Organisation leaders are responsible for creating a work environment that enables people to develop and thrive. You can do a lot to ensure that your employees deal with disagreements in proactive, productive ways, by knowing when and how to intervene — and when to let things be.
If workplace conflicts escalate – you must intervene immediately. In a climate where employees are becoming more and more litigious, doing nothing is not an option.
This blog will identify strategies for you to manage workplace conflict, before it gets out of control.
Identify the signs and causes of conflict
What are the signs of conflict?
Pay attention. The sooner you see the signs, the sooner you can intervene, resolve the conflict, identify the underlying causes, and reach a sustainable agreement.
Obviously, some signs of conflict will be more visible than others. For example, you might; witness a heated exchange between colleagues. Conversely you may note some of the following more subtle symptoms; motivation drops and productivity falls, where fewer people volunteer to take on new tasks, and there is little employee input at team meetings or briefings; behaviour changes, where people may start to make derogatory remarks towards each other, and there are fewer social events organised; the level internal and external complaints increase; and absenteeism increases.
Although some managers will find it easier than others to pick up signs of conflict, you are more likely to be able to interpret the behaviour of your employees, if you have regular channels for open communication and consultation. By listening to the views of your employees at an early stage – before issues become potential problems – you can gauge future reaction to proposed changes.
Identify who and/or what is causing conflict?
Ascertain whether the conflict is between; individuals, teams or groups; managers, or between large groups of employees and management. Conflict can stem from a wide range of causes. Some of these may relate to:
- health and safety issues;feelings of unfair or discriminatory treatment;
perceived workplace bullying and harassment;
- poor communication;
- lack of equitable employment al opportunities;
- skill deficiencies and inadequate training opportunities;
- perception of poor management decisions; and
- discontent over rates of pay and conditions.
However, sometimes, the real causes of conflict can be an underlying or long standing issue, and may relate to;
- A long standing rivalry or a clash of personalities between employees;
- A disagreement or differences of opinion over a work related matter (eg) a project or work assignment
- Resentment towards an individual or the organisation;
- A ‘spill over’ from personal issues outside work; and
- Unresolved problems from the past.
Important! Conflict between work colleagues can often lead to accusations of bullying or harassment. Good managers should always be ready to talk. Try to create a climate of open and positive dialogue. If an employee feels able to approach you at an early stage, then problems can often be nipped in the bud before they become formal grievances.
Managing conflict between individuals
Have an informal discussion with the parties involved.
This stage simply involves discussing, talking, and listening to employees. Giving people the time and space to express their feelings and concerns, can often help to clear the air. It is important employees know who they can go to if they have a problem at work, and that their concerns are taken seriously.
However, it is also recommended you keep a record of when these meetings take place, who attended, what the result was etc. These records may be helpful later on, if the matter escalates to a formal grievance or potential workplace investigation. This will at least indicate what initial steps were taken in order to resolve the matter.
During these discussions, managers should encourage individuals to express their opinions and views, clearly identify the problem, identify their needs, and any potential resolution to the problem. You should attempt to:
Allow every person involved to clarify his or her perspectives and opinions about the problem. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to express an opinion. It is your responsibility to make sure all participants feel safe and supported.
Identify the ideal end result, from each party’s point of view. It might surprise everyone to discover that their visions are not so far apart after all.
Identify what can realistically be done to achieve each individual’s goals. If action is taken, how will this affect other projects and objectives? Will the end result be worth the time and energy spent? If the attempt fails, what’s the worst that can happen?
Find an area of compromise. Is there some part of the issue on which everyone agrees? If not, try to identify long-term goals that mean something to everyone, and start from there.
Having these conversations with employees is not easy, and requires a great deal of sensitivity and empathy. You need to:
- listen to what employees say, and
- try and pick up on any underlying causes of unhappiness or stress.
- question employees in a measured and calm way, putting them at ease, and giving them the chance to speak freely.
- reframe what’s been said, so that problems can be seen in a different light
- lead by example, and set the right tone for the way people communicate with each other.
Feel a little out of your depth? That’s okay, but consider getting the help of a professional trained consultant, and engage in training to assist you in building your own skills. There is a wide range of highly trained consultants that specialise in mediation, conciliation, and/or other dispute-resolution processes.
Managers who successfully manage conflicts in their organisations, will generally experience lower rates of complaints than managers who fail to do so. Informal resolution of complaints, significantly reduces the potential for further conflict, time lost in dealing with issues and further administrative processing and related costs.
Important! While employees should be encouraged to try and attempt to resolve matters informally, employees should also be reminded, that it is the responsibility of all staff to behave in a responsible and professional manner in the work place at all times, and treat others with respect and dignity.
- Bring issues out in the open before they become problems.
- Be aware of triggers, and respond to them when you first notice them.
- Have a process for resolving conflicts — bring up the subject at a meeting, and get agreement on what people should do in cases of differing viewpoints.
- Make sure everyone understands the organisation’s goals and expectations, including what’s expected of each individual. Be as clear as you can about job descriptions, and areas of responsibility.
- Provide appropriate training opportunities for all employees. Provide training and coaching in conflict-resolution skills, and expect people to use them.
- Recognise and praise accomplishment. If employees feel valued and appreciated for the work they do, they are less likely to jockey for position and become involved in disruptive behaviours.
- Discourage gossip, and don’t put people in the position of spying or reporting on each other.
- Create consistent performance review procedures that apply to everyone equally.
- Make sure expectations are realistic and consistent with job descriptions.
If you have any questions regarding your conflict resolution in your workplace, please contact one of INVision’s Directors via our website at www.inv.com.au