One of the most difficult things that a manager will have to deal with is conflict in the workplace. Conflict is caused by a variety of factors including:
- Personality clash
- Difference in personal and professional values
- Competitive pressures
- Poor communication
If not handled appropriately, an internal conflict can evolve into a major problem. Even worse, when it arises between an employee and a customer the effects can be devastating.
Handling conflict by talking
Conflict often begins between two parties (disputants) who have opposing views on a particular situation or circumstance. Secondary parties will be drawn into the conflict, although these have an indirect stake in its outcome. There may also be third parties that become involved: bystanders who become involved as intermediaries or dialogue facilitators as the conflict becomes more drawn out and polarized.
Clearly, the sooner the conflict is resolved the less damage it will cause. Allowing open wounds to fester only increases the likelihood of long-term disease in the workplace. In the worst case scenario, conflict will need to be contained. This may lead to a manager taking disciplinary action, calling on witnesses, acting as a referee, and ultimately making a judgement call and becoming a peacekeeper; time-consuming stuff that removes the manager from focusing on strategic issues.
If employees feel able to talk, raise concerns, and know that their views will be heard fairly, they will cooperate more easily and foster a healthy work environment. Coaching employees in conflict resolution techniques is central to this strategy.
The four roles in conflict resolution
When analyzing conflict resolution strategy, we see that there are four roles intermediaries can take during conflict resolution:
- The first of these is as a mediator, trying to work out the differences. The danger is that neither side listens.
- The second sees the arbitrator step in, discussing what is fair. This is likely to require give and take from both sides, with the problem being that there is a residual resentment and a feeling that fairness has not been achieved
- An equalizer will try to level the playing field, but, again, this can leave a feeling that the field is unfairly sloping toward one of the disputants
- Finally, the healer attempts to get the disputants to ‘shake hands and make up.’ Once again, this requires cooperation from both sides.
The power of coaching employees in conflict resolution
In an ideal world, all workplaces would be free from conflict. But conflict is a natural event between human beings who have different backgrounds, education, values, and goals. In workplaces where employees have been coached in conflict resolution skills, a number of distinct benefits emerge:
- Employees who have worked their way through a conflict are often seen to benefit from closer working relationships, and teams become closer. Employees who are trained in conflict skills understand how to navigate conflict, acting as one or more of the four intermediary positions outlined above.
- Employees can identify their own problems quickly, reducing downtime caused by internal disputes. Managers are less likely to be disturbed, and customer concerns and complaints are proactively dealt with.
- Unresolved conflict increases tension in the workplace, and can quickly draw in other employees. Morale falls and productivity slows. Coach your employees to manage conflict and you’ll find a better, more relaxed, and more productive working environment.
- Those employees who have been coached to handle conflict will act more objectively and less subjectively. They will be more open to the ideas and views of others, and more understanding of emotional references. This objectivity also helps to improve problem solving skills in the workplace.
Breaking down conflict resolution behavior
Both managers and employees have a deep vested interest in addressing conflict quickly and efficiently. When coaching these skills, the first point of reference must be to identify the individual’s natural behavior when conflict arises. The two dimensions of behavior can be described as being either assertive or cooperative. In my next article, I’ll explore how these two dimensions manifest themselves in response to conflict situations.
Contact Forward Focus today to discuss the benefits your business will receive when it helps its employees to handle conflict.