When tensions arise in any workplace team, as a manager, it can be tempting to gloss over it or let it resolve itself. But effective management of employee tensions and conflicts in their early stages is crucial in order to minimise any fallout. So what can you do to resolve conflict in the workplace?
What causes conflict at work?
Team conflict can appear at any time for many different reasons. Whether it originates from low-level differences, misunderstandings, or personality clashes, or deeper, more long-established issues, it’s crucial to handle every individual situation tactfully – and quickly.
Though not an exhaustive list, we’ve set down some of the most common reasons for conflict in the workplace – some more serious than others – and what they can mean for those involved.
Poor communication – One of the main contributors to workplace conflict is a lack of clear communication. This could be from colleague to colleague or Manager to employee, but not listening or failing to deliver key information can have a big knock-on effect.
Personality clashes – Any office environment contains a group of people who might not necessarily be together under other circumstances. What one considers acceptable work behaviour or talk, others can find offensive, rude, or unproductive, resulting in acrimonious relationships.
Duty-based disputes – Every team member should have a clearly defined role. But it’s not uncommon for certain roles, tasks, or duties to overlap. If there’s no clear definition between them, it can cause friction or irritation.
Unresolved issues – There may be instances where an employee suddenly requests a change of team or duties which could stem from a clash of management leadership style. But there may be other underlying reasons for the change, such as bullying or harassment.
Unrealistic expectations – Work can be stressful at the best of times, but tension and conflict can arise if employers ignore or overlook employee needs while setting unrealistic deadlines or work expectations.
The reasons behind workplace conflicts are never clear cut and can be multifaceted. Left unresolved, they can escalate, causing bitterness and resentment, affecting employee productivity, efficiency, and mental health for all concerned. If you’re made aware of, or see any underlying issues, acting quickly to acknowledge and intervene, while establishing the root causes, could lead to a positive resolution.
There are a number of preventative measures you can take to stop large-scale conflicts and help reduce the potential for such clashes at the outset. They could include simple tactics like a change of desk for those involved, or even a reconfiguration of office layout to tackle the problem as well as giving everyone a fresh perspective. But you could also go a step further by suggesting a change in job role to suit the needs of those affected. In any event, you should make your whole team aware of any workplace conflict policies your company has in place. This should encourage more open communications from employees to report matters early, before a situation is allowed to develop.
Alternative dispute resolutions
If you’re able to put these preventative actions in place effectively, your chances of seeing issues positively resolved are good. Sadly, there may be times where both individuals or situations don’t change, giving them the potential to escalate to higher levels of conflict. In these situations, you can use an alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
ADRs allow you to tackle any long-term or deep-rooted issues between colleagues or management, such as harassment or discrimination, more effectively, setting out a more thorough plan to resolve them positively. There are two common types of ADRs, but they can both be preceded by informal talks between the two parties.
Informal talks – Designed to get those involved to sit down and have open table talks to clear the air and find a constructive, amicable, and positive resolution. More often than not, informal talks will be instigated by you as you attend in an impartial capacity, but on occasion they can be arranged by the people affected.
External mediation – Neutral discussions led by a trained mediator can be used to encourage the persons in conflict to address their issues and calmly listen to their different viewpoints. With specific training and skills, a mediator – whether sourced externally or someone suitably trained from your HR department – can often help people find a suitable resolution.
Arbitration – This option has a legal grounding. An impartial arbitrator will look at all evidence collated from both parties of the conflict while lawyers or solicitors can be involved to represent them. The arbitrator will then make a legally-binding resolution that both parties, and the business if applicable, will have pre-agreed to abide by.
Resolving workplace conflicts successfully
Swift and decisive action is essential when it comes to managing any workplace conflict. While it’s an issue no manager or employer wants to have to deal with, it is something that does need to be addressed and planned for. Ideal first steps to take would be to make yourself approachable and available, encouraging any staff to come to you for support on their issues as and when they need it. And when they do come to you, remain calm and stay in control. Make time to listen to staff in a dedicated space, away from distractions, be open-minded, and ask questions so you get a clear picture of the issues.
If, as a manager, you find yourself in a potentially problematic situation; are you fully prepared to step in and resolve any tension or conflict effectively, or do you need some help?
Training with Clearfocus
As mental health and workplace communication training providers, Clearfocus Training is a specialist in workplace conflict resolution training. Helping you to build your confidence and deal with workplace conflict effectively, it’s an ideal course for managers, leaders, or anyone in people-related roles wherever conflicts could arise.
The course covers conflict models, understanding aggression in conflicts, looking at the other person’s point of view, and understanding your workforce. You can learn more about our course by reading our conflict and resolution training course page.
The course suits groups of up to 15 people and will be delivered by one of our fully qualified communication training professionals at your choice of time, day, and venue wherever you are in the UK. For more information and to book your course, call us today on 07831119941 or email email@example.com.
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