Handling Conflict Resolution in the Workplace – Part One

If you are in a senior or management role, chances are, you will be required at some point to deal with conflict resolution in the workplace. No one enjoys conflict, especially at work. Working in any organisation means working with people that have a variety of opinions, perspectives, and work styles. And whilst organisations that foster such diversity are the strongest type of company, it doesn’t always mean everyone will get along all of the time.

Managers need to be able to recognise when problems are brewing and feel comfortable and equipped to step in and work with staff members in resolving these issues. In this blog article, we discuss why it’s important for managers to understand how to resolve problems that occur in the workplace, what are some common problems, and some conflict resolution skills that every manager should know.

Every manager has their own way of leading a team. When you have several managers, the distinction in leadership styles becomes even more prominent. Keep in mind that those you are in charge of may have to work under the leadership of different people throughout the day. Dealing with different leadership styles can cause irritation and confusion.

For instance, a different manager may take a direct approach to work, while you have a more inclusive and open style of communication. The best way to tackle these differences is to focus on developing a synergistic company culture and core values that guide your team. These principles must be strong enough to offer consistency in decision-making and people’s overall involvement in the business.

As a manager, one of your most useful skills will be acknowledging conflict exists everywhere, identifying the seeds of conflict, and nipping it in the bud. Conflict is most destructive when it is driven by unconscious forces. Much of the work of conflict resolution is to bring those unconscious forces to the fore where they can be looked at, discussed and negotiated with.

When dissent is not allowed to be expressed, it causes anger which can grow until it reaches a point of explosion. Some people are good at expressing disagreement. Others find it more difficult and will sometimes express dissatisfaction in passive ways, through sarcastic comments, gossip, bad-mouthing people behind their backs, procrastination, failing to reply to messages, etc. This can provoke further conflict and lead to escalation. If you suspect that someone is upset or angry but not expressing it directly, try asking them using words like: ‘You seem upset. Are you angry about something?’.

Be aware that when you are asking that, you are asking someone to be vulnerable. When people find it difficult to express anger, it is often because they judge anger to be bad. Admitting anger is like admitting to doing something wrong. In these cases, great care needs to be taken with the conversation to avoid any expression of judgement about their feelings.

Conflict Resolution in the workplace can be a highly stressful experience for all involved

Once you have a good handle on the nature of the conflict, it’s time for all parties in conflict to start generating some options for resolution. Don’t be afraid to use your creative problem-solving skills to suggest as many options as possible, this stage is about what you can do, not what you will do. Maintain a positive attitude through this brainstorming session to build mutual respect and consider the following:

  • How do we not want this conflict to be resolved?
  • How might others resolve this conflict?
  • In an ideal world, how would this conflict be resolved?

Once you have a good list of options, look over the list, and perform some basic evaluation to narrow it down. Having set criteria for the needs and wants of everyone involved in the conflict can help you select a solution that best aligns with everyone’s priorities. Take your reduced list of options and identify the effort, payback, likelihood of success, and everyone’s preference towards each one. This leads to picking your solution and implementing it and should narrow your options down enough to come up with an effective solution, or even combine options.

This should move into taking action. Your action plan ensures that the necessary steps are taken to resolve the conflict. Parties involved in the conflict should communicate at this time and work together to evaluate, re-examine, and adjust the action plan accordingly.

In our next blog, we’ll look at more techniques to help you handle conflict resolution in the workplace.

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Handling Conflict Resolution in the Workplace – Part Two