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10 ways to effectively manage workplace conflict

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Conflict is inevitable – and is especially prevalent in workplace environments where employees operate under high-pressured environments, aiming to achieve important objectives.
Global workplace solutions provider, Manpower South Africa states that workplace conflict will never be completely eradicated, however businesses can and should implement programmes that equip employees with the skills to recognize and diffuse potentially catastrophic conflict situations.
Lyndy van den Barselaar, MD of Manpower South Africa, explains: “Effectively managing and resolving conflict is key to the successful operation of a business. Business owners and managers should study and practice effective workplace conflict management skills, no matter the size of the business they own or run.
“Conflict in the workplace is common, especially in South Africa where the evolving business landscape sees people of different ages, sexes, and cultural and religious backgrounds working together. Conflict can be born anywhere and over the smallest issue, for example; supporting different soccer teams, having a different political ideology, or even a different view of a celebrity.
“Left unchecked, conflicts can erupt into much larger situations where more people are embroiled in the conflict, or violent behaviour erupts. Dealing with workplace conflict in a professional, effective and timely manner is important to maintaining a healthy work environment for all. If conflict is effectively managed, negative effects can be minimised, and the business can continue to run at its best.
“Business owners and managers should not only undergo training in this regard, but businesses should also have specific policies in place in terms of conflict management to ensure that conflicts are always resolved in a fair and uniform manner.”
Manpower South Africa offers the following tips for business owners, managers or HR managers for dealing with workplace conflict in the most effective manner:
* Acknowledge the situation – It is imperative to be sure of the source of the conflict and to get involved as soon as possible, to avoid worsening of any issues. Agree on a statement of the issue using simple and factual terms with both parties. If the situation is multi-faceted, search for ways to portion the large issue into smaller pieces and deal with one issue at a time.
* Give both sides a voice on mutual ground – Find a mutually agreeable and convenient physical space to meet that is comfortable for all involved. Agree on when to meet and how much time is available to devote to the process and make sure that there is a mutual airing of differences, complaints, and negative feelings. Both parties must feel that this is a neutral space.
“Meeting with both parties is perhaps the most effective way to manage conflict, rather than meeting with the parties separately. Ensure that a system is devised where each party has a chance to explain their side of the story without interruption. Company policies on the issues at hand should be used to govern the outcome and ensure a fair result,” says van den Barselaar.
* Work through the differences – Employees, colleagues or business partners come from different backgrounds and experiences, which play a role in shaping their personalities. When people fail to understand or accept the differences in each other’s personalities, problems can arise in the workplace. The aim is to bring about greater understanding of the individuals’ different attitudes, perceptions, and positions. Encourage both sides to put forward their points of view and encourage them to try and understand each other’s point of view.
* Controlling conflict through resources – One method of controlling conflict is to expand the resource base. Involving employees in conflict resolution training can assist in achieving this, as it will equip them with the necessary skills and encourage them to use them.
* Have an open communication policy – Clear, regular communication is the key to forming and maintaining strong relationships in the workplace. It is important for managers to be accessible, to ensure employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns as soon as they arise. “Open communication channels within a business help to build a sense of trust between management and employees, which is extremely important for the successful running of the business and for the effective management of workplace conflict,” says van den Barselaar.
* Be fair and reasonable – This point links back to the importance of having policies in place around the management of workplace conflict. It is important that all cases are treated in the same manner, and that outcomes are fair and reasonable. Cases concerning management, for example, should not be treated differently to a case concerning ground staff. If necessary, get a non-bias third party involved to assist in the management of conflicts.
* Managing emotions and dealing with facts – While conflict can be highly emotional, managing and resolving conflict in the business environment calls for rational, fact-based thinking. Concentrate on the facts at hand, and resolve the conflict according to company policies. “Ensure that each party feels understood, but remain emotionally neutral, as becoming emotional can cloud your judgment,” says van den Barselaar.
* Have a positive attitude – Attitude is essential to the outcome of any situation, even a difficult one like workplace conflict. We have a much better chance of coming to an outcome involving mutual gains if the conflict is approached as an opportunity to learn and achieve a positive outcome.
* Reach a compromise – When resolving conflict, the aim should be a win-win outcome, where both parties feel comfortable with and understand the outcome and how it was reached. Ensure that both parties agree to move forward – it might also be a good idea to get them to sign an agreement.
* Identify solutions – The most important outcome of managing conflict is coming to amicable solutions, and ensuring that all parties understand the solutions that have been reached and why – according to the company policies. “Being able to reach a reasonable and fair solution will ensure that employees feel heard and valued by the business, which is important for job satisfaction and company loyalty,” explains van den Barselaar.
“Organisations have to learn to use the resources available to them to the best of their ability, to effectively resolve conflicts and ensure that the negative effects are minimised,” concludes Van den Barselaar.