Conflict is normal among people. It is a part of human existence that manifests in various aspects, from personal interactions with friends and family to the realm of professional engagements. Within the workplace, conflict gives rise to significant levels of exasperation, distress, unease, sorrow, and even fury. It stands as an inherent part of life.
In the contemporary landscape, businesses recruit employees from various locations, each possessing distinct cultural, intellectual, and ideological foundations. In an environment where individuals harbor contrasting perspectives on identical issues, disagreements are virtually inevitable.
Conflict can trigger uncertainties, but “those uncertainties are trying to tell you something about a problem that needs attention,” says labour organiser Jess Kutch. Meanwhile, Cair Canfield, a conflict and collaboration consultant, explains that justification is often what keeps us stuck in conflict.
The nature of conflict in the workplace
In 2022, Niagara Institute surveyed professionals around the world about their conflict management style at work. The results of the survey reveal that the most common conflict management style is collaborating at 59.8 per cent, with compromising following at 24.4 per cent, accommodating at 6.8 per cent, avoiding at 4.6 per cent, and competing at 4.3 per cent.
About 55.7 per cent of the 716 respondents say that they prioritise restoring harmony when resolving conflict, even if they must push aside their own needs. Meanwhile, 30.6 per cent of respondents say that they are aggressive or competitive when resolving conflict in the workplace.
However, if left unaddressed, conflict can result in poor decision-making and outright disputes, as well as instances of bullying or harassment. Teamwork deteriorates, morale diminishes, and projects come to a standstill. Organisations bear the brunt through squandered talent, elevated absenteeism, and a surge in staff turnover.
Conflict is expected in everyday living. When conflicts happen, the idea is not to try to prevent them but to resolve and manage them effectively. By employing suitable methods of resolution to tackle issues, individuals can prevent their differences from escalating into significant problems.
So, if conflict arises in your workplace, what should you, as the employer, do?
7 tips to resolve conflict in the workplace
Identify the origin of conflict. The initial phase in conflict resolution involves identifying the root source of the conflict. By pinpointing the cause of the conflict, you gain insight into its initial development. Moreover, you facilitate agreement between both parties regarding the nature of the dispute. To achieve this, engage in a discussion about unfulfilled needs on each side of the matter. Prioritise the establishment of mutual understanding. Gather comprehensive information regarding the perspectives of all conflicting parties. Persist in asking questions until you are assured that every party involved comprehends the matter at hand.
Find a confidential location for discussion. Often, individuals ponder over the question, "How can problems be peacefully resolved?" To engage in a productive dialogue, it's crucial to identify a setting that guarantees safety and encourages open communication. Such an environment empowers you to take the essential steps towards candidly addressing the concerns in question. Therefore, before embarking on conflict resolution, ascertain a secure and private space for dialogue. Avoid selecting the office of either party or a location in close proximity to them. During this interaction, ensure that each party is granted sufficient time to express their perspectives on the matter at hand.
Engage in active listening and facilitate expression. Following the successful arrangement of a secure and confidential location for both parties, ensure that each participant is granted the chance to articulate their perspectives and understandings concerning the matter under discussion. Allocate equal time to each party, affording them the opportunity to voice their thoughts and apprehensions impartially. Foster an environment of positivity and assertiveness during the meeting. When appropriate, establish guiding principles for the conversation. Adopting this approach will motivate both sides to communicate openly and transparently, aiding in the comprehension of conflict origins and the identification of potential resolutions.
Delve into the situation. Once you've heard out both parties, it's time to really dive into the situation. Don't jump to conclusions or make a final judgment based on initial impressions. Take a moment to dig deeper and gather more information about what's been going on, the people involved, the specific issues, and how everyone is feeling. Engage in one-on-one conversations with those in the middle of the conflict. Listen carefully and attentively to ensure you fully grasp their perspectives. A good way to do this is by summarizing their thoughts and feeding them back to ensure you've got it right. And remember, sometimes the root causes of conflict might not be immediately obvious – try to uncover any underlying sources that might not be apparent at first glance.
Find solutions that work for everyone. Alright, here's where things get interesting. When it comes to dealing with conflicts, we're all aiming for the same thing: solving the problem and making sure it doesn't come back to haunt us. And to tackle any issue, it's super important to understand the different phases of conflict. This understanding helps us figure out the best ways to achieve that common goal. So, after you've identified where the conflict is coming from, completed those heart-to-heart conversations with both parties, and done some digging into the situation, it's time to gather everyone around the table. Yep, both sides included. You want to chat about the strategies that could work to achieve that common goal – you know, resolving the issue that's been bugging everyone. Listen closely, talk openly, and toss around ideas until you've explored all the possibilities. This is all about teamwork and creative problem-solving!
Reach a solution together and define responsibilities. Handling and sorting out conflicts are like following a communication roadmap. When employees grasp that they're all rowing in the same direction toward the company's goals, interactions become smoother than ever. So, once you've dug into the situation and brainstormed ways to untangle the mess, it's time for both sides to collaborate on finding the absolute best solution. This is about seeking common ground, finding ideas that both parties can get behind. And then comes the crucial part: clarifying who does what in putting this solution into action. It's also a golden opportunity to get to the bottom of what caused the issue in the first place and make sure it doesn't rear its head again.
Lastly, keep an eye on progress and plan for the future. Don't ever assume that the problem is completely fixed. Effective communication should be the guiding star within the business galaxy. So, here's a question to ponder: "What comes after the first step of effective communication?" Answering this will keep you on track to make sure your team is sailing together towards those organizational goals. Now, moving forward, it's essential to stay vigilant about the issue and evaluate whether the solution is doing the trick. And if, by any chance, that problem raises its head again, be ready to spring into action. However, let's aim for smooth sailing by being prepared with preventative strategies for the future.
To wrap it up, conflict is woven into our everyday existence. Disagreements can spring up with family, friends, and even colleagues. However, there exist several steps for conflict resolution that you can adopt to prevent these issues from spiralling out of control. Navigating and resolving conflicts within the professional sphere is vital for achieving organizational objectives. Therefore, if you encounter challenges or disagreements among team members, seek out effective strategies to handle the situation. The pointers and methods provided above serve as tools to help you master the art of resolving workplace conflicts.