Conflicts are a natural occurrence in our lives because of social interactions wherever we are. In a workplace, it is common for conflicts to occur. However, we can establish and maintain structures that can reduce and manage the occurrence of conflict. There are many ways to develop an effective system to manage or prevent the occurrence of harmful conflict.
Preventing And Managing Conflict In The Workplace
Some measures need to be taken to prevent and manage conflict in the workplace to reduce the number of disputes that may arise. These measures should be undertaken from the beginning of employment and through the duration of the job. The measures should also consider how to de-escalate an ongoing conflict most effectively. The steps below outline how to effectively prevent and manage conflict in the workplace:
Define Acceptable Behavior
Organizations should define behaviors that set out as acceptable and unacceptable. Having multiple dispute resolution mechanisms in the written policies encourages employees to use the available dispute resolution mechanisms and maintain acceptable behavior within the premises. The policy should state the consequences of an employee unacceptably behaving.
Conflict Management Training
Conflict management training involves imparting conflict resolution skills to people at the workplace to reduce, avoid and manage conflict. Training lets managers understand how to handle subordinates if a dispute arises, to create a work environment where employees focus more on work than disputes. Managers should be equipped with the skills below for conflict management:
- Competence: This is the ability to do something effectively. It is an important skill in conflict management because it promotes respect for the manager in the workplace. A respected manager is trusted, and employees feel confident in their opinions and abilities to resolve conflicts.
- Communication: Managers should be trained in effective written and verbal communication. Good communication makes it easy for managers to defuse situations and decode issues among employees before they escalate.
- Conflict resolution: Managers should be trained in conflict resolution techniques like mediation and arbitration. Such techniques can be applied in conflicts to avoid seeking external help with dispute resolution.
- Confidence: While confidence is more of a personality trait, it is crucial because managerial tasks require firm enforcement. Confident manager makes rational decisions they can stand by and, by extension, promotes their subordinates’ confidence in them.
- Ethics: Managers need to conduct themselves ethically. Ethical practice promotes a healthy work environment where employees are encouraged to be honest and diligent. Managers who conduct themselves unethically are likely to have employees comfortable with using underhanded methods to get ahead, leading to more workplace disputes.
Develop Strong Employee Relations
Employee relations are mechanisms implemented by a company to foster a healthy work environment for its employees. Having strong employee relations helps with conflict management and resolution by encouraging honesty and transparency by the management and employees. The following strategies can be employed to develop strong employee relations:
- Promoting open dialogue
- Focus on company objectives
- Promotion of healthy work-life balance
Some characteristics signify strong employee relations. They include:
- Employee commitment to core values
- Diversity and inclusion
Listen To Complaints
Listening to complaints allows you to sift through workplace talk and identify a conflict before it grows. When listening to complaints, ask questions to ensure you have a clear picture of the issue and to let the employee understand the implications of the problem. You may ask the employee to put the matter in writing and offer a solution or at least a way forward.
Pay Attention To Decreased Productivity
If you note decreased productivity in the workplace, it could mean a lack of communication and harmony between your employees. This communication breakdown often leads to tasks not being completed or done poorly, resulting in reduced productivity.
Written Rules, Policies, And Agreements
For effective conflict management, it is essential to have written rules, policies, and agreements in the workplace. Written policies provide a streamlined guideline for conflict resolution, creating an environment of trust in the conflict resolution process. Further, written policies, rules, and agreements reduce the chances of incurring legal liability because they are within the employees’ knowledge and a result of consent. In contrast, the lack of a written policy creates confusion and uncertainty about reporting and resolving conflicts, resulting in drawn and costly conflict resolution processes. Employees should be informed about the written policy as soon as they begin working. By signing the employment contract, they agree to conduct themselves appropriately and accept the consequences of violating the agreed-upon written policies. The written policy also makes it easy for employees to report their issues to their superiors, reducing the possibility of using external litigation, which is costly and may make it more difficult for managers to reduce and manage conflict in the workplace.
You can also use employee write-up forms to solve minor disputes. Employee write-up forms are disciplinary forms where managers can record and inform the employees about their violations and the measures to be taken against them. These forms make it easier for managers to communicate with employees in times of dispute.
Schedule Meetings To Discuss And Resolve Conflicts
Parties involved should be able to meet and express their grievances in a calm environment that allows a rational conversation to resolve conflicts. Scheduling a meeting at an appropriate time is encouraged to let parties consider their grievances and align their thoughts on what they would like resolved. The discussion should be in person or virtually through zoom, where parties can share their issues and reach an acceptable solution.
You are encouraged to set the meeting up in a neutral environment where both parties will be comfortable.
Identify And Work Towards Standard Solutions
Once you have identified the issue to be resolved and know the views of each party, you can identify solutions that will work for them. The solutions should be clear for each party and lay out the steps each party should take to achieve the solution. If you cannot solve the issue, you may escalate the matter to the human resources department, where it can be handled by individuals more equipped to solve it.
Have Effective Management
Effective management involves measures that encourage quick conflict resolution as soon as the conflict arises. It provides conflict resolution mechanisms with a line of authority if the conflict escalates.
The following are some tips for effective management:
- Active observation: Active observation means being aware of your subordinates’ work behavior and the complaints they voice out. It goes beyond waiting for employee complaints and instead working on sorting issues you have noticed in the day-to-day running of the organization.
- Quick action: Just like active observation, quick action involves pre-empting the conflict and solving it before it escalates. Encourage open communication between the employees, which will let you identify potential areas of conflict, and you can strategize how to avoid the potential conflict.
- Respect boundaries: Employees are human and have different personalities. As a manager, it is essential to consider each employee’s boundaries and work around them to resolve conflict.
Conflict resolution is a delicate process that uses various approaches depending on the circumstances that signify effective management. Some of the effective methods of conflict resolution include:
- Collaboration: Collaboration involves encouraging the conflicting parties to air their issues in a controlled environment and come up with a mutually satisfying solution.
- Compromise: Compromise involves having one or both of the parties sacrifice or let go of an aspect for resolving the conflict. It is encouraged where both parties understand that their issues cannot be fully accommodated for either of their benefits. Letting go of the conflict partially and equally is more beneficial than having it go either party’s way.
- Avoidance/withdrawal: Withdrawal is encouraged as a temporary measure of conflict resolution. Both parties should take a step back and resolve the conflict later.
- Accommodation: Accommodation involves taking measures to hear both sides of the conflict and satisfying one party’s needs over the other. It is advisable to use this technique where one of the parties is disadvantaged.
View Conflict As An Opportunity
Conflicts often result in teachable moments. They encourage the exploration of solutions and resolution methods to reach common ground. Consequently, the organization can identify the weaknesses in its systems and policies and understand how to strengthen them. Further, conflict encourages growth and team building within the organization.
The hiring process is instrumental in how managers can prevent and manage conflict in the workplace. When hiring employees, it is vital to consider the existing workplace dynamics to ensure the new hire will fit into the environment. Further, consider the views of other employees on the kind of employee you should hire. At the point of recruitment, lay out the organization’s expectations concerning conduct and conflict management. Inform the new employee of the dispute mechanisms available to them in case of conflict.
Fair Termination Processes
Some conflicts may escalate to the highest management level with no solution; as a result, the concerned employee may need to be terminated. The termination process should be fair because it has implications for the remaining employees. Termination should be the last resort once all other methods like mediation and facilitation have been exhausted. Fair termination should include rules, clearly stated consequences, and impartial investigation to reach a fair result. In normal circumstances, the following steps are followed before termination:
- Verbal counselling: During verbal counseling, the employee should be informed of the conflict so that they can clear any misunderstandings or get the opportunity to correct the issue before it escalates. In this step, the employee should be allowed to express their grievance and be informed of the consequences should they continue their conduct.
- Written warning: Written notice should be issued if the employee continues inappropriate conduct after verbal counseling. The written warning should state that the employee received a verbal warning, the current actions of the employee, and a description of consequences to be expected should the employee continue to misbehave.
- Suspension without pay: Some issues may call for suspension of the employee without payment to discipline the employee. Employers looking to use this option should check on the existing labor laws to avoid violating the rights of their employees.
- Termination: If the conflict persists after employing all the above methods, it may be necessary to terminate the employee to avoid drawing out the conflict. The employee should be offered a probationary period to assess whether the termination should be undertaken. If during the probation period or at the end, the employer has cause according to the relevant laws. Some just reasons for termination include:
- Theft and fraud
- Physical altercations
- Gross insubordination
- Working while under the influence of alcohol.
Managing conflict at the workplace is essential to improving an organization’s productivity. Managers should be equipped to identify and deal with conflicts at the workplace in a fair and timely manner. To streamline the conflict management process, organizations should have policies that outline the expected conduct of employees, the process and mechanisms of conflict resolution available to employees, and the consequences of inappropriate behavior. Conflict management is a necessary process that requires the involvement of management and the human resources department.