Unfortunately, conflict is a far too common aspect of working life. But it’s little wonder considering the amount of different personality types that mesh together in the same space for 8 hours or more each day. Ultimately personalities will clash, no matter how minutely. Someone’s favourite chair may go missing or John the IT guy eats the bagel you’d been looking forward to all day…
As business expert and best-selling author Alexander Kjerulf notes, “Whenever people are engaged, committed and fired up, conflict and disagreement is bound to happen.”
So, what can we do about conflict when it arises?
- Confronting conflict: Recognising that conflict is inescapable is probably a good place to start. Once managers accept this, it becomes far easier to anticipate problems and find ways to address them. While it may be instinctual for most of us to try and ignore issues that lead to unpleasant confrontation, this may result in the situation becoming unmanageable. Disputes between staff can evolve into very serious matters and if left unresolved these problems can eventually deeply affect productivity, morale and staff performance.
- Identify the problem: Is the matter trivial or is it something that could potentially threaten the business? Is it a quarrel between two employees or between groups of employees? Is it directly related to work or is it a personal matter? Has it just recently arisen or is it ongoing?
Knowing what the issues are and whether they’re reaching tipping point is crucial in determining whether intervention/mediation is warranted. Remember, before making a move; try to clarify the issues and facts of the dispute.
- Communication is key: Create an approachable environment in which staff can freely discuss their grievances without judgement or fear of repercussions. Conflicts can often be quashed early on by giving each party the chance to effectively communicate their complaints and concerns.
- He said, she said: As a problem escalates you may need to mediate. As such, having an established process to resolve conflict is very important. Be sure to meet with both parties together and act as a neutral voice. Acting as mediator in a calm environment in which both parties feel they’re being heard is a great way to defuse a volatile situation. Hopefully you’ll be able to determine the root of the conflict and find a workable solution.
- Firm but fair: While it is never a good idea as a manager to take sides in office disputes, it is important to enforce the company rules and policies. Try not to blame or apportion blame to individual employees, your aim should be to address the problem itself.
- Silver lining: More often than not, work related disputes reveal hidden benefits. As long the dispute is resolved without lingering animosity, arguments between workers can often give leaders key insights into problems in the business, which leads to finding long lasting solutions. For example, consider one department head that is constantly at odds with another head due to a perceived inability to meet deadlines. After mediation it turns out the real issue has to do with out-dated procedures in desperate need of streamlining.
While conflict is a common aspect of work life, it is also detrimental to the smooth functioning and overall success of the business. This is why all disputes should be resolved as quickly as possible. You do not want wounds to fester. In the event that you feel you’ve exhausted all your options you must not hesitate to make the tough decisions.