When discussing workplace conflict, people often talk in terms of collaboration and relationships. That is, how do we keep this problem from happening? How do we identify who’s responsible for its occurrence? How will relationships be affected? How do we keep everyone else happy? Who should be fired? The “How do we resolve conflicts effectively?” question affects everything from productivity to interpersonal interactions.
Traditionally, organizations have viewed conflict as a negative circumstance which needs to be avoided by imposing more sanctions and less avenues to address them. Today, though, successful organizations are more likely to embrace splitting views, realizing that they can lead to increased solutions, opportunities to solve issues faster, and greater productivity. Rather than avoiding conflict, the goal is to better manage the workplace problems that inevitably come with open dialogue.
Having a framework as to how you’re going to resolve differences that arise in the workplace is very beneficial. An example might be “We remain in conversation until a breakthrough is reached.” Publish these guidelines and make sure everyone in the organization know about them.
One of the most damaging responses in the face of conflict is avoidance or some other form of lack of action. Nothing frustrates employees more than when a workplace conflict arise, and it’s ignored rather than being addressed. Even worse, an investigation may be underway, but “stalling” tactics such as collecting more information or saying “it’s under review” are used. When problems arise, don’t waste time before taking tangible steps to resolve them, especially if you are in charge of the investigation; or in charge of the parties involved.
Many companies struggle with ongoing issues that lead to unresolved conflicts: limited resources, constant change, poor communication, burned-out managers, etc. What differentiates organizations, though, is how early these common problems are recognized and managed. When you start to see the effects of unresolved conflict on an on-going basis such as low morale, violence, excessive complaining, and lack of productivity, it is time to intervene before these signs become systemic.
Of course it is essential that the senior executives in an organization model the desired behaviors when dealing with conflict because these people of influence set the tone for the entire organization, but it’s equally important that all employees buy into the “way we solve problems around here.” Everything, including the investigation process, the reporting systems, the training structures, and the communication pathways, should reflect that conflicts are valued, welcomed, and resolved here.
Taking Perspective – Our workplaces are microcosms of society. They can be structured in a top-down fashion with the managers in charge and employees quiet and passive, or they can allow employees to have relatively equal part in resolving problems as they surface. Workplace cultures that support debate and critical conflict resolution are necessary to advance a more fluid environment.
Creating Solutions – The ability to not only listen but put yourself in the position of the other people involved. Everyone has different needs and conflicts can arise in the workplace because one person sees things differently from the next. So after you listen to what everyone says, it’s time to put yourself in their shoes and create a solution that is suitable for everyone, but especially ideal for the company. If it’s not right for the company, and you can prove why, then you can use that as a reason to come up with a final solution without harming anyone. In many supply chain situations, safety take the backseat when production is in jeopardy. This can create a situation where the person who tries to ensure safe operation may be faced with people responsible for production taking risks, which increase the possibility of injuries while performing the work. Having a good understanding of the other person’s basis for their position, their needs, and their past experience is indispensable in finding a means to approach and resolve the issues in an amicable way.
Expressing Emotions – Many, if not all, aspects of organizational functioning are influenced by emotion. Perhaps, acknowledging the emotional aspect of organizations would allow managers and employees to collaborate towards building emotionally-healthy workplaces. This means navigating away from the unrealistic notion that organizations are machines that can be managed with clinical precision. Realizing this is the first step towards understanding how this powerful and primitive psychological drive can be managed for the good of the organization; allowing for a culture of reflective thinking and delay responding; far from suppressing one’s actual emotions.
Ongoing Modification – Research published in the Annals of Behavior Medicine showed that the harder people exercise, the less pleasure they feel during the exercise and the less likely they will exercise routinely. Same goes for the way we approach conflicts within our workplaces. With the ever increasing demands on today’s employees, work environments can be incredibly serious. The chances of making mistakes or having a short fuse on any given day multiply. Do your best to cheer things up when appropriate. Having a little fun with your colleagues can foster connectivity and a common desire to work through tough issues amicably. After all, people will always do what they choose to do. If you want them to do something, make it fun – Conflict resolution and problem-solving is no exception.
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