Conflict causes problems for the business, because it does have consequences in terms of behaviour changes in the business. Unresolved conflicts lead to unhappy staff, reduced productivity, antagonism, inefficiency and stress.
- Motivation drops- fewer people volunteer to help with new tasks, input at team meetings or briefings drops.
- Behaviour changes- people become less companionable. Fewer social events are organised. People may start to make unkind remarks towards each other.
- Productivity falls-This can also lead to more queries and complaints if people are not cooperating with each other.
- Sickness absence increases- this is because unhappiness may lead to depression or stress.
- Responses to staff attitude surveys or questionnaires may reflect underlying dissatisfaction.
Causes of conflict can include
- Inadequate management
- Communications poor
- job roles unclear
- Training is not adequate
- Unfair treatment
- work environment poor
- Lack of equal opportunities
- Bullying or harassment
Managing conflict can include:
- Having an informal discussion
- Investigating the problem informally
- Using internal procedures to investigate formally e.g. Following company procedures for dealing with grievances
- Training line management in handling difficult staff or situations
- Using a skilled mediator
Managing conflict between groups can involve:
- Improving communication and consultation with employees
- Forming representative groups in the business to handle problems – for example, a working groups or staff council
- Using analysis and discussion to find joint solutions
- Getting outside help
The first step to managing conflict should be the informal stage because many conflicts can be resolved simply by talking and listening to employees. If people are given the time and space to express their feelings and concerns it can often help to clear the air.
Outside help can be brought in before the formal route is taken and be beneficial at this stage. Mediation is often used in dispute resolution. This involves an independent, impartial person helping two people or groups reach a solution that is acceptable to all.
What are the typical responses to conflict?
Fight –Some people reacts in a challenging way, perhaps becoming aggressive, shouting or losing their temper.
Flight – Some ignore or deny there is a problem –perhaps hoping it will go away.
Freeze – people may be unsure how to act and not really confront the issue. This allows matters to drift along without proper resolution
Face –This is the best reaction. The issue is addresses in a calm and rational way with a planned approach.
Steps to resolve a conflict in the workplace
Conflict is almost inevitable if people are passionate about their work and have strong feelings and opinions. But the situation needs to be managed and conflict must not be allowed to disrupt the workplace and affect morale negatively. It is best to resolve matters sooner rather than later.
The first thing to do is discuss the issue in a low key non-confrontational way. Perhaps the other person doesn’t realise they are causing a problem, or annoying you. Choose somewhere private, and a time when you are not rushed, and open the discussion. Perhaps say,” I wondered why you did ‘A’ last week” or “I’ve noticed that you often do ‘B’. Can you tell me why that is?” This is a polite enquiry, not an accusation. Choose your words carefully – “Why on earth do you always have to do that?” is more confrontational.
Maybe they have a good reason, and once they explain and you see their point of view it will cease to annoy you. Maybe you can make a suggestion that would be acceptable to both of you?
Before the discussion make some observations about the issue, and prepare to discuss things objectively, without emotion.
During the discussion, describe events factually. Don’t make assumptions, or guess why the other person does things. You can say “I’ve noticed you often criticise my work “because it is a fact. You can’t say “You don’t respect me “because you don’t know that.
Be prepared to apologise for your part in the conflict, even if you don’t feel you are to blame. Usually everyone has played a part in the conflict, so be prepared to accept responsibility for that.
Be prepared to make the peace, praise them, and pay them a compliment. Discuss the effect of the conflict on everyone around you and the business, and explain why it is better to resolve the conflict.
Try to find common ground and explore outcomes that might be acceptable to all parties. Suggest some conciliatory moves that can be adopted right way. Agree specific actions, request actions that will help.
If you can’t resolve the conflict between you, perhaps a mediator can help. The mediator should have received formal mediation training, and have mediation experience. Otherwise, they may make the situation worse.
A good mediator will help the parties find their own solution, and will not provide advice or push towards a particular solution.