Don't Fear Workplace Conflict
One of the most uncomfortable situations for employees and managers alike is a workplace that has obvious conflict. We are taught to work as a cohesive team and lots of resources is spent on teambuilding. The word "team" is considered sacrosanct in fact.
Yet, the dirty little secret is that conflict is inevitable. If you have worked for any significant period of time, you have experienced some workplace dissension. Conflict arises because of differences of opinion or interests.
Conflict arises in various ways, but the causative factors can usually be classified as interpersonal, organizational or external.
Interpersonal conflict may arise between colleagues because of differences of opinions, disparate perceived interests, differences in work ethic or even style. As the workplace becomes more diverse, generational and ethnic differences increase the likelihood of "innocent" actions being seen as a personal assault on the majority or the norm.
Organizational conflict may arise if employees sees the organization or an authority figure requiring something that makes the employee uncomfortable. Very often, changes that are mandated are perceived as something management is "doing to" employees. If the employee is not convinced of an individual benefit or at least mutual interests, then conflict can result.
External forces may be a regulatory requirement or competition that impacts the employee professionally, economically or socially. Reaction to this sort of conflict may be directed at management or even colleagues who have nothing to do with the change.
Since conflict is inevitable it is important to learn to deal with it, rather than being consumed and devastated by it.
Conflict resolution by mediation or other formal means is a learned skill which is beyond the scope of this blog. However, here are some suggestions for managers.
Act as mediator. Allow the parties in conflict to state their positions (in turn) without interruption. Concentrate on "what happened" and "how it makes me feel." Minimize mind reading or ascribing motives to others.
Sometimes clarification of issues- what really happened, why it is necessary and what we are doing to make it more palatable -will suffice to clear the air.
If after discussion both parties cannot come up with a mutual solution, the manager can impose a non-negotiable solution, regardless of whether or not either party gets exactly what he or she wants.
Embrace conflict. Yes, you read that right. Smart managers encourage honest exchange of ideas, differences of opinions and points of view. It is important for employees to feel respected and valued enough to know their ideas and feelings will be considered seriously and without recrimination. Encourage employees to speak up. Encourage employees to report conflict to you.
Look for conflict. By this I mean use the feedback tools available to look for areas of disagreement and conflict among employees, between employees and management. What do your surveys, exit interviews, focus groups and personal conversations tell you?
Conflict is inevitable. Conflict is not bad; but ignoring it or suppressing it definitely is.