Conflict results when two parties have different perspectives on a certain issue, and when neither side is willing to compromise.
While some conflict in the workplace is unavoidable, it can be minimised through effective conflict management strategies. In any group made of individuals with different needs and goals there will be disputes, and this is particularly true when those people have differing levels of power and privilege.
There are 5 crucial steps to effectively managing conflict:
1. Prevention is better than cure
Most conflicts start because workplaces haven’t created the necessary safeguards, workplace culture and processes to ensure that all staff is being treated fairly and respectfully.
That’s not to say there are no problem individuals, but these individuals are often not the cause of the issue, but a symptom of a deeper, more systemic problem. Training managers with professional communication skills and behaviour, plus training staff in how to communicate constructively about their issues, will prevent most conflict from occurring.
2. Early intervention helps
Conflict rarely arises suddenly. It emerges over time and can be discovered by watching for absenteeism, low work productivity, staff disengagement, low morale and poor retention.
These are clear indicators that there is a need to improve ‘bottom up’ feedback processes and pay attention to the culture of the workplace. Intervening early on allows you to reduce tension before it has escalated too far, and is an essential component of conflict management.
3. Encourage objectivity in the office
Once the conflict becomes ‘personal’, with one or both parties attacking the other’s character, motivations or value, it is a very difficult situation to recover from.
It is essential that disputes are framed in non-personal terms if at all possible, though often this is unachievable as it has been caused by personal idiosyncrasies. At the very least it needs to be about an individual’s behaviours and not about their character if there is to be any hope of a successful outcome.
4. Independent resolution
In almost every conflict, there will be a certain degree of fault on both sides. But conflict resolution can be delayed when one party refuses to compromise and insists on pinning full blame on the other party by putting up ‘evidence’ of wrong-doing.
This inevitably means the other party has to call in power of their own by taking legal action or involving unions. The sooner independent mediation is involved, the better the chance of a successful resolution.
A mediator will help the parties discharge the emotional energy, to listen to the other party’s point of view and to agree on a mutually desired outcome. Empathy and perspective are far better tools for conflict resolution than power can ever be.
5. Make adjudication your last resort
If mediation has failed then there is no choice but to seek adjudication, preferably from an independent body that both parties agree has the right to make a binding decision.
Most governments provide dispute resolution and adjudication services, so seek guidance from an established adjudication centre if it comes down to this.
Conflict management could save your team, and business
Conflicts will arise in the workplace. In an environment where sometimes stress is high and deadlines are imminent, the need for both leaders and co-workers to step up and implement conflict management can be the difference between problems being resolved, and situations escalating beyond repair.