It is best to solve disagreements before they disrupt the workplace.
By Alexandra Walsh
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to bring down morale or affect productivity. There are strategies you can use in your business to handle conflict at your company and restore the peace.
What Is Conflict Resolution?
Conflict resolution is a process that helps people resolve disagreements peacefully and effectively. It can be used in a variety of situations, from workplace disagreements even to family conflicts.
Certain types of workplace conflict are readily identified. Other forms of conflict may not be so easily detected. Small, irritating events such as negative attitudes occur repeatedly over time and can cause people to strike out at each other.
Here are some of the most common reasons why conflicts occur at work:
- Different personalities or perspectives
- Unresolved problems from the past
- Feeling of competition with one another
- Poor communication skills
- Uncertainty about roles or responsibilities.
Whether the conflict is minor or major, resolving it successfully can lead to improved relations between all involved and less disruption and stress for everyone involved.
When to Intervene
What type of business workplace conflict requires intervention? Anything that disrupts the business, that impacts productivity, or poses a threat to other employees all need addressing.
The ability to resolve conflicts is often seen as a leadership trait. People who can identify conflicts, acknowledge different opinions, and build a consensus are valuable to any company.
The degree to which you tolerate a situation before intervening may vary. A manager may not feel it necessary to intervene when a minor exchange of words occurs between employees. However, a situation where one employee threatens another employee requires immediate attention and action.
Conflict Resolution Methods
There are several different strategies in conflict resolution available, and it can be hard to decide which one is best for your specific situation. However, there are some key factors you should consider when choosing a method.
The goal of the conflict resolution process: The end result is to know what you want to achieve. Do you just want to talk things out or do you want to reach an agreement?
The parties involved in the conflict: Are all the people willing and able to participate in the process? Does everyone have their own perspective on what happened and what needs to happen next?
The type of dispute or disagreement at hand: Is it a small issue that can be resolved through conversation or is there something more serious going on?
The availability and familiarity with the chosen method: Do people in your workplace have experience using this type of approach and does everyone know how it works?
The answers to these questions will help you pick and choose the right method for resolving a conflict.
Sometimes, the person who resolves a conflict may be a neutral party or mediator. At other times, they may be someone who is personally involved in a conflict and who takes an outside perspective to find a solution.
When handling conflict, whether personally between you and another or you as a moderator between others, here are a dozen basic guidelines.
- Talk with the other person.
Ask the other person or persons if moderating to name a time when it would be convenient to meet and arrange to meet in a place where you and they won’t be interrupted.
- Focus on behavior and events, not on personalities.
Begin with “When this happens” instead of “When you do this.” Don’t make it personal. Make sure to describe a specific instance or event instead of generalizing.
- Listen carefully.
Be patient and take your time. Listen to what the other person is saying instead of getting ready to jump in and react. Avoid interrupting the other person. After the other person finishes speaking, rephrase what they said to make sure you understand it. Ask questions to clarify your understanding if necessary.Acknowledge the problem, and then take time to evaluate all of the information you have heard. A too-quick decision does more harm than good when it further alienates the other individual involved.
- Avoid using coercion and intimidation.
Emotional outbursts or coercing may stop the problem temporarily but is not a long-term solution. Whether involved personally or as a moderator, you must act neutral and be level-headed.
- Establish guidelines.
Communicate as unemotionally as possible what steps will be followed to understand each other’s perspective. If you are moderating a conflict, have everyone agree that the meeting will end if guidelines are violated.
- Keep the communication open.
If the conflict is personal, let the other person speak their mind. As a moderator, allow everyone to express their viewpoint, but also share your perspective. It is your job to help facilitate the meeting and help pinpoint the real issue causing conflict.
- Identify points of agreement and disagreement.
Summarize the areas where you or others agree and disagree. Ask the other person or persons if they agree with your assessment. Modify your assessment until both of you or those you are moderating agree on the areas of conflict.
- Act decisively.
If you are moderating a disagreement, once all the circumstances are reviewed, make a decision and act. Don’t leave the issue in limbo. Taking too long to make a decision could damage your credibility and others’ perception of you.
- Prioritize the areas of conflict.
Discuss and reach an agreement on which areas are the most important to resolve. Sometimes it might help to agree on which area might be the easiest to resolve.
- Develop a plan to work on each conflict.
Start with the most important conflict and have a plan that focuses on the future. Set up future meeting times to continue your discussions.
- Follow through on your plan.
Stick with the planned resolution until you’ve worked through each area of conflict, and always maintain a collaborative attitude throughout the process.
- Build on your success.
Look for opportunities to point out where progress has been made. Compliment the other person’s insights and achievements. When moderating, congratulate people when progress is made, even if it’s a small step.
Benefits of Conflict Resolution
There are many benefits to conflict resolution, both professional and personal. Here are just a few of the most common reasons why it is such a useful tool:
- Helps resolve disputes quickly and easily.
- Reduces tension and stress levels in the workplace.
- Builds trust between individuals and increases mutual understanding and trust.
- Improves communication and collaboration between people.
- Reduces stress levels throughout the workplace.
- Help build stronger relationships by addressing misunderstandings and disagreements head-on.
Resolving conflicts builds momentum for positive change at companies as well as in individuals themselves. The hard work of conflict resolution will pay off when the scheduled discussions eventually give way to ongoing, friendly communication.