We have all encountered conflict in our day-to-day lives, it’s really not that uncommon. From our personal lives through to our professional ones, conflict can be present and sometimes it can be healthy, but when it becomes a daily habit, we know we are doing more damage than good.
There are levels of distress, pain, discomfort, sadness as well as anger that gets brought up by conflict, so we must begin to understand how to manage conflict in the workplace when these emotions start to bubble up.
It is of course natural that conflict does happen in the workplace. People will have competing ideas as well as backgrounds, histories and various viewpoints that all get brought together, making it the ideal scenario for conflict to take place.
Knowing how to manage these differences is better than simply trying to prevent them from happening. Establishing a conflict management process is important in the modern workplace - we want to be able to help our colleagues work together and through any issues rather than holding back and making things worse.
In this guide we are going to cover what conflict management is, the different styles that can be used and what the best practices are to deal with conflict in the workplace.
What is conflict management?
Conflict management, which is also known as conflict resolution, is having a workplace solution that doesn’t stop conflict from happening but places the management team in a position to enable constructive conflict.
At its core, when someone is in conflict with someone else, it’s a disagreement. There are many different viewpoints and sometimes, these can be protracted in their nature which leads to the initial conflict. Conflict in the workplace can also take many different forms:
Forms of conflict management
This is very common in many workplaces. People come from all walks of life with different backgrounds and experiences. When there is a lack of understanding or even acceptance in these differences, conflict can arise quickly.
- Miscommunication or misunderstandings
This can be a workplace culture issue as much as an individual one. But when there is a lack of clarity and understanding in the objectives at work, done over a prolonged period of time, this can cause a series of conflicts that need to be resolved.
Some people feel the need to ask for additional resources before proceeding whilst others don’t. Conflict is caused when those who need more resources start to feel management is not taking them seriously and when those who don’t begin to feel frustrated at those constantly needing help as a sign of being ‘held back’.
Managers hold the key to workplace satisfaction. From little things such as acknowledging the work that's been done to wider issues such as decision making. Strong leaders help teams see the bigger picture and help them navigate through issues whilst poor management can appear to avoid dealing with issues at all, causing greater frustration and resentment amongst staff.
This is when something like a poor layout can cause stress and even animosity (e.g. cramped areas, noisy offices, poor signage) or it could potentially put people at risk (i.e. poorly-lit, isolated exits).
If staff don’t have the necessary skills or knowledge to complete the job, then staff training is needed. If it’s not provided you can easily demotivate the worker but equally create conflict with established team members who are having to do more work to cover the role.
- Not dealing with conflict
As per some of the examples above - not dealing with conflict can lead to many issues which include workplace relationships breaking down, a fall in productivity and can even affect the relationship between the business and the customer. This will be detrimental to the health of the business.
Conflict management styles
Conflict management is a technique that has been studied over many years. In fact, there are different types and styles to dealing with conflict that have been used and refined by management teams all over the world. Due to the nature of conflict resolution, many of the best practices are constantly evolving.
This technique is based on the principle that you allow the others needs before your own. Effectively you allow them to ‘win’ and get their way.
How much do you really care about the issue at hand? This technique is useful for a scenario that fits the bill of ‘wanting it off your desk’ or, ‘it’s not worth my time to fight it.’ It can also be a technique that is useful especially when you know you’re in the wrong.
This quick fire style of dealing with conflict is sometimes regarded as being one of the better ways, especially when it comes to having to deal with more important issues. The positives include requiring minimal effort and that the manager is approachable for staff to vent their frustrations. The negatives are that if this style is overused, it can be seen as weak management and that more meaningful issues are getting ignored.
We have all experienced this style of management. Effectively, if we avoid the conflict, the parties will also eventually let the issue resolve by itself. In some cases team members can be removed from the project where the conflict has occurred or that deadlines are pushed back/reassigned to others.
This technique is very handy if a cool-down period is required or if you need to spend the time understanding what the conflict actually is, and how it can be resolved.
The positives of this style include giving time and space to those involved to gain perspective and resolve the issues themselves. The negatives however can have more detrimental long term effects as the issues you avoid today can lead to bigger conflicts down the line.
This is a style which yields the best long-term results but, it also takes the most amount of time to reach a resolution due to its difficulty.
Effectively all parties are put into a win-win situation by sitting down together, talking through the conflict and finding a way to a better solution. Collaboration is essential when it comes to preserving the relationship between all parties involved or when the conflict is something that could have a significant impact in the business.
This is about finding the middle ground and asking both parties to concede on some aspects of their issues so that a solution can be found. It’s also known as lose-lose as neither party gets to truly win their case for the disagreement.
The compromise technique is handy for when you need a quick resolution or when you need a solution that fits and can be agreed upon. However, one of the negatives of this style is that compromise can lead to resentment between the parties and towards the manager if this style is used too sparingly.
This is one of the hardest strategies to implement for conflict resolution. In this scenario, all compromise is rejected and instead, one side does not back down until the other gives way.
Where unpopular decisions need to be made, or morals are even taking shape for a specific course of action. Whilst it can resolve disagreements quickly, there is a very high chance of morale and productivity being compromised.
Conflict management techniques and best practices
When it comes to conflict management one of the most fundamental skills to put into practice is an understanding that everyone is different. How we may feel about a situation will be completely different to how someone else will feel and so, having the compassion, empathy and the right attitude to dealing with conflict is a must.
Of course, were you to spend time studying various widely recognised conflict management techniques and best practices, you would have a greater vocabulary to deal with conflict in different ways.
At Thomas, we use our psychometric assessments to provide a robust and objective way to equip individuals with a transparent and concrete understanding of themselves and others, such as a person’s preferred communication style, motivators and fears.
Whether conflict has occurred or not, using psychometric assessments will significantly help increase self-awareness, giving your people the ability to understand themselves and others so they can modify their behaviours to avoid any negative feelings in the future.
Here are nine steps that can be used to help with conflict resolution.
1. Raise conflict awareness
Clarify what the source of the conflict is. Once you understand where the issues are coming from, you can make the best determination in how you want to handle the issue and find the best solution. Bring all the parties involved to make them aware that the situation is going to be handled and how it is handled is going to be fair.
2. Take a considered and rational approach
Start by establishing all the facts of the conflict. What has caused the issue? Who are the parties involved? What has led to the matter escalating that required intervention. Remove any emotion you may have in the matter to get a greater understanding of what has happened and piece together information that you require.
3. Investigate the conflict
Take in all the information that you can from both parties, take the time needed and investigate what the issues are. Don’t come out with any judgements until you have heard all sides of the issue.
Establish who else might be involved, what was the trigger, find out more about how people are feeling after the conflict - and what they were feeling in the lead up. Take the time to also listen on an individual level, find a way to comprehend their viewpoints - summarise what they have said back to them so you can feel secure that you have everything you need.
Finally, try to understand if there were any underlying issues of conflict - a previous complaint you weren’t aware of - which may not have been evident or noticeable at first.
4. Determine how the conflict can be tackled
Find the solution after hearing everyone out about how the conflict can be best resolved. You want to make sure that everyone has been heard, but equally, you want to establish a method that rewards resolving the issue rather than just letting it pass as something unobserved.
5. Make certain everyone is heard
Give everyone a chance to speak about the issue but importantly, actively listen to what their view of the situation is. It is important to embrace a positive and assertive approach whilst having your discussion. If necessary, set ground rules.
By doing so, what you are doing is establishing the ground rules for everyone to behave in an open and honest manner as well as comprehend the causes of the conflict and identify solutions.
6. Identify conflict resolution options and agree the way forward
You’ve taken the time to listen, investigate and even made sure that everyone is heard. Now it is about proposing a solution that can be used for moving the situation forward and beginning to reconcile the issues that led to the conflict. This must be done with both parties so that there is an understanding that the issue now has a finality.
7. Implement agreed tactics
You’ve proposed the changes, found a solution which fixes the problem - you think to the best of your judgements - now is the time to give it to your employees to fix it. They have agreed to the resolution beforehand and now it’s about giving it time to be settled.
8. Evaluate and assess
One of the things you must never do is, presume that the issue is resolved. If you are a good communicator, you should be able to ascertain how everything is going, and also make yourself understood.
But in evaluating the situation after the conflict you are needed to understand that employees will work together to meet the organisational needs. Keeping an eye on them and evaluating their response to the resolution is needed. If the issue pops up again, you need to take the necessary action to resolve it.
9. Consider and establish preventative measures
Look for the lessons that you can learn from this past experience and understand what about the conflict can already start to be resolved before it happens. What are the trigger points that have caused the tension in the workplace and know what you can already do better to prevent it from happening again.
Think about the steps you would take if you knew it was going to happen and then introduce what could be some long term solutions into the mix to stop it from happening again.
How Thomas can help you deal with conflict in the workplace
Not dealing with conflict can lead to many issues which include workplace relationships breaking down, a fall in productivity and even, affecting the relationship between the business and the customer.
It’s important to understand that good, effective workplace management should be at the top of the list to resolve conflicts in the workplace. From short term solutions to longer term ones, understanding your people, what triggers conflict and how to resolve the issues is important.
At Thomas we use psychometric assessments that significantly help increase self-awareness, giving people the ability to understand themselves and others so they can modify their behaviours to avoid any negative feelings in the future. By knowing a person’s preferred communication style, motivators and fears, we can find ways to effectively manage conflict and stop it from happening in the future.
If you would like to learn more, please speak to one of our team.