Conflict is always present in life. And workplace conflict, in particular, is inevitable in organizations today.
It could be between two employees, among teams, or between employees and managers. The trick, however, is identifying and managing conflict to make the best of a situation. Whether it is a multinational corporate entity or a brand new start-up, addressing workplace conflicts is imperative for the smooth functioning of the organization.
Not managing conflicts correctly can leave a long-lasting impact on a team or an organization. It can affect team morale, interpersonal relationships, and productivity levels. While team leaders are responsible for conflict resolution, every individual should be somewhat prepared to get at the root of conflict and work towards de-escalating it.
Managing conflict takes time and resources. A lot of research has been done into identifying how conflict resolution can be made efficient and impactful. A host of conflict management techniques have been developed to assist you in resolving conflicts in the modern workspace.
What is a conflict in the workplace?
Workplace conflicts, like all other conflicts, are primarily born out of a difference of opinion. Sometimes, these conflicts are beneficial, like in cases where colleagues provide constructive criticism to each other and prod their colleagues into generating a better quality of work. But at other times, if these conflicts are not handled with care, they have the potential to damage personal and professional relationships. Timely resolution ensures you get the benefits, and not the downside, of the conflict situation.
With a few simple conflict management techniques, a mid-level manager or a high-ranking executive can attempt conflict resolution. This is important to keep out, as much as possible, ‘office politics’ or underhanded attempts to climb the organizational ladder. The following conflict management techniques are focussed on boosting productivity and creating a healthy work environment.
Best conflict resolution techniques
Focus on the problem, not the person
While managing conflict, it is important to remember that personal conflicts affect professional relationships. The key is to deal with the problem at hand. Involvement in interpersonal relationships is, at times, dangerous and unfruitful.
Take your personal opinion about the individuals’ behaviors out of the equation and address the specific work-related problem at hand. Commenting on someone’s abilities or historical behavioral patterns can be replaced with constructive suggestions that create actionable points to ensure that the work is not hindered.
Among the many conflict management techniques, one of the primary ones is impartiality. All of us have been in a situation where we noticed favoritism and felt powerless. Being impartial is extremely important in conflict resolution.
If there is a problem in the production chain, it is necessary to look at which parts are not functioning as they should. If the team or the group is falling short, it is better to address them as a unit. If there is a workplace conflict between two or more individuals, it is better to look at the problem and not attack the behavioral patterns of specific people. It is imperative that every single individual gets a say and is given a patient hearing. No one individual should be given special treatment.
Make sure to identify the conflicts
Half the battle is won if conflicts are identified in a timely fashion. If conflicts are allowed to fester for a long time, they develop into grudges which have an adverse impact on employee morale and productivity. A leader should always keep an eye out for friction and factions.
One of the conflict resolution techniques could be to conduct periodic reviews, work satisfaction assessments, etc. If employees are provided with a safe space or platform where they can air their grievances and reach amicable solutions, chances are that fights will be prevented from escalating and having an impact on organizational productivity.
We all have some kind of experience in managing conflicts. It is a necessary life skill that we should cultivate. To deal with the competing claims and sensitivities of two or more parties, it is important to develop active listening skills. Really ‘listening’ to stakeholders will go a long way in pacifying them. Empathetic and active listening will reassure stakeholders that they are being ‘heard’ and their concerns are being taken on-board.
One of the best techniques for achieving active listening is LEAN. LEAN stands for – Leaning forward (towards the person), Eye contact (to display attention and sincerity), Asking relevant questions (to further the discussion), and Nodding (to display understanding).
Analyze the conflict
Organizational conflict can quickly take an ugly form. People are different so the way they react to problems is also different. This means one has to consider different ways of reporting problems and resolving conflicts.
A leader has to take an unbiased and close look at the conflict situation. Rather than getting stuck in the interpersonal nuances of a conflict, a leader should spend time in getting to the root of the problem and developing robust solutions for it.
Take the emotion out of it
In conflict resolution in a professional capacity, it is important to resolve the conflict while ensuring the dignity of the workplace and existing relationships. If they are dealt with at an emotional level, they can leave feelings of bitterness and resentment among the stakeholders.
A few conflict resolution techniques suggest that before a conflict resolution session, the mediator or a superior should take some time to clear out their head. If the mediator gets triggered by the conflict, there are chances that things could take a turn for the worse. The mediator should strive to dissociate themselves from the issue and the people, and focus on rationally solving a problem. Just like a hard math test.
Promote working together
The trickiest thing about organizational conflict is that people have to continue working together once the storm has passed. If the resolution favors one party, it is obvious that this is going to be difficult for the other party. Leaders should encourage a collaborative approach to conflict resolution.
It is important to make stakeholders recognize that they are accountable to themselves, others, and the organization. Working together makes them see the bigger picture and can result in depersonalizing the issue. As Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam said, “Problems are common, but attitude makes the difference.”
As a leader, one of the most important things to be mindful of when managing conflict is maintaining utter and complete transparency. If some people are not privy to the communication taking place to achieve a resolution, they are bound to think that something ‘private’ or ‘underhanded’ is happening.
While dealing with organizational conflict, ensure that team members are aware of and, if possible, have a contributory role in conflict resolution. Not only does this ensure honesty, but also offers the benefit of multiple perspectives and innovative suggestions. Transparency in communication, especially on touchy topics, ensures active team-building, strengthens team bonds and creates long-lasting professional relationships.
Harappa Education’s Navigating Workplaces course teaches you about all the different conflict management techniques and conflict resolution. It covers the tried and tested approaches to conflict resolution, such as the Thomas-Kilmann Model. The course also contains the perspectives of leading educators and trainers on becoming more efficient and productive. With a little study and practice, you will see that nothing is impossible. Once you have the right tools and the mindset to tackle conflicts, no situation will seem insurmountable.
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