An inevitable part of running a business or managing a team is learning to deal with conflict according to Instant Offices. Largely unavoidable and precarious if left unresolved, conflict has a way of finding you, even if you try to avoid it. So how do you spot it, when do you intervene and how can you effectively put it to rest?
- Remember that conflict isn’t always a bad thing
Not to be confused with plain old bullying at work, people who are passionate will stand up for what they believe in. In a meeting or creative session at work this isn’t necessarily a negative, because if people care enough to disagree about something, it usually means they’re invested. Don’t be alarmed by a certain feeling of discomfort as ideas and opinions clash, as these kinds of sessions can sometimes lead to a breakthrough or at the very least, become an interesting learning process for the whole team.
- Learn to recognise common causes of conflict
Three factors top the list for what most often sparks conflict in a company.
- Differences in personality. This could also be due to differences in styles of working. This source of conflict was mentioned in 44% of cases of conflict in a representative survey of UK employees.
- Performance management.This involves problems with an individual’s competence or performance (33% of cases), the level of resources or support people need to do a good job (23%), or being able to agree on objectives or targets (18%).
- Hierarchy or power dynamics.These contribute significantly to employees’ experience of conflict. The more junior person in a working relationship is more likely to report conflict (i.e. to say that a given interaction or situation is ‘conflict’), more likely to say that it’s stressful or demotivating, and less likely to feel that it’s adequately resolved.
- Put early warning systems in place
Conflict management is essential in any workplace. Failing to have conflict management systems in place is a mistake that many new companies and start-ups make, especially when teams are still small. Instead of trying to keep an eye on your organisation and each team member yourself, assign line managers or company representatives to specific teams and make them responsible for spotting, dealing with, or reporting conflict situations as they arise.
- Communicate a conflict resolution policy to your team
Conflict is often seen as a dirty word, and it shouldn’t be. Many employers deny outright that they have conflict in their organisations, which is crazy. We should be able to admit that there is conflict in our organisations – it’s a natural thing to happen when people are working together. The more that we can do to normalise ‘conflict’ the better. This shift in mindset is absolutely critical.
- Recognise when to intervene
Most office disagreements and arguments have a way of settling down and working themselves out. Knowing when to intervene can be difficult, which is why it’s important to not only have a line manager or team leader involved to provide input, but to also try to understand the motivations of the individuals involved.
- Face conflict head on
This approach should be taken to any conflict that’s been reported or expressed to you. Being direct is the most effective way to stop conflict from escalating, while ignoring it could lead to an unhappy team and a lot of resentment.
- Be sensitive about your resolution approach
There are many different conflict management techniques that are effective in an office environment. Sometimes the most appropriate thing will be to have direct, informal conversations. Other times, mediation or facilitated conversations are essential. In serious situations, disciplinary procedures or formal grievances may be the most appropriate approach. It’s important to weigh up the situation, think about the personalities involved and look at facilitating a situation in which they’ll be most receptive to finding a solution.
- Have an action plan
Once you’ve identified the points of agreement and disagreement, prioritise which issues are most important, and which are the easiest to solve. From there you can create a plan of action to work on each conflict.
- Never stop communicating
Take a look at your company’s communication policy. Is it easy for individuals to express concerns and raise issues with their managers, either anonymously or in person? If not, it’s time to put a system in place. While working towards a conflict resolution with teammates, ensure that you communicate regularly to keep everyone informed and remind everyone of what the goal is.
- Use conflict as an opportunity
If you don’t leverage conflict for team building or learning purposes, then you’re missing out on a great opportunity to experience different perspectives and to teach and grow. Promoting compromise, forgiveness, compassion and understanding in any workplace can only lead to better working relationships.
Being a leader requires confronting problems head on. Dealing with the needs of individual employees can seem like a complex and daunting task, but it all comes back to communication.
By Jonny Gifford, an adviser on organisational behaviour at CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development)