Put a group of employees from different back grounds together and add the everyday stresses of work and you are bound to have conflict. Businesses that embrace staff conflict resolution strategies will be able address it without a disruption to the work.
According to Kirchoff and Adams (1982), conflict can arise through four conditions;
- High stress environments
- Ambiguous roles and responsibilities
- Multiple boss situations and
- A prevalence of advanced technology
Conflict slows down work, breeds a toxic work environment, can put the business at legal risk and can lead to employees quitting their jobs. Because of this, conflict is sometimes viewed as entirely negative.
However, an office without any conflict is not the best thing either. Healthy conflict, in the form of debates, discussions and competitions amongst staff can have benefits.
Benefits of healthy workplace conflict
It creates an environment for innovation
In looking for solutions, staff don’t simply accept the first idea that is presented. Instead, they interrogate it. In the process better ideas can come to light.
It creates an opportunity to offer clarity
Conflict can arise from staff not being clear on the direction they should be taking on a particular assignment. One group may think they are meant to tackle things a certain way, while the next group has a different idea. This gives leaders a chance to step in and give clarity.
It can improve group cohesion
Staff who are able to disagree constructively will have better workplace dynamics. You want teams that are not afraid to challenge each other.
With staff conflict resolution strategies in place, conflict doesn’t need to bring work to a standstill or compromise productivity. Here are some effective staff conflict resolution strategies to try:
Set a standard of behaviour
It helps to be proactive and let your staff know what behaviour is appropriate in the workplace and that which is not. This will quell some conflicts before they arise. For instance, making it clear where smoking areas are on the premises will prevent those who do not smoke from feeling inconvenienced by those who do.
These standards of behaviour can go further to include documents that detail people’s specific roles, how to handle common conflicts and the hierarchy to report a situation if need be.
With clear boundaries, staff will know how to behave and how to avoid situations that may lead to contention.
Conflict management training
Still under being proactive; offer staff conflict management training. This shouldn’t only be done after an incident. Since it is inevitable that conflict will surface in the workplace, arm staff with skills to handle it even before it does.
The training, which can be done in large or small groups, will teach employees how to respond respectively to colleagues in times of conflict, how to be more understanding and how to de-escalate tense situations.
It is a mistake to only offer conflict management training to employees who have had ‘problems’ or who faced disciplinary action. As conflict can arise from any group of employees, this training should be for everyone.
Highlight areas of agreement
By definition a conflict arises out of difference. Counter that by finding and highlighting any areas of common agreement. This helps the parties to begin to focus on the commonalities between them. This can be as simple as getting people to agree on what the point of contention is. You can arrive at this by asking and answering the question, ‘What is the problem?’
Having areas of agreement can be the first step towards finding a solution that works for all parties.
Practice active listening
As a manager, one of the best skills in your staff conflict resolution tool kit is the ability to listen. Give all parties enough time to air their views. Conflict can arise from people not feeling heard so it is important to encourage open communication.
According to research, communication is very important in relationship management and conflict resolution in the workplace. It gives the parties involved a chance to appreciate the different perspective of their colleagues. They may have missed the point in the heat of the moment. As you listen, ask questions to gain a deeper understanding of the situation.
Focus on events and not on individuals
It is good practice to remain objective when resolving conflict. One strategy that can be employed is to remain focused on the events rather than on the staff members involved. For this staff conflict resolution strategy to work, all parties need to remind themselves that the goal is to find a solution, and not find out who is right and who is wrong.
Use the organisational goals as a guide
One of the conflict resolution strategies that cuts through the noise is to focus on the goals of the organisation. Situations can arise where different parties both have viable solutions and cannot agree on which to choose. Instead of being subjective or playing favourites, go with the solution that most serves the organisational goal.
Give clear instructions
Lack of clear instructions has a major effect in the workplace. It affects morale, productivity and can give rise to negative conflicts. When people don’t exactly know what they are supposed to do, it leads to confusion. It also leads to improvising which can sometimes be detrimental to team dynamics.
Make verbal instructions clear by following them up with an email. It will provide a reference point for staff. In addition, ensure that the communication strategy employed within the workplace serves everyone and provides for two-way communication.
Staff should be able to seek clarity from a person in charge as opposed to arguing amongst themselves about the right course of action.
While managers can be called in to implement staff conflict resolution strategies, this shouldn’t always be the case.
Staff should be trained and empowered to solve conflicts on their own and to seek assistance from management when an issue escalates. Doing this will help with cohesion as well as improving communication skills among colleagues.
With staff conflict resolution strategies, businesses don’t have to be afraid of conflict, instead they can manage it and even benefit from positive conflict.