Ask any middle manager or human resource manager about the most taxing part of their job. The answer is most likely to be resolving conflicts between subordinates. But we have seen that managers don’t really have any effective conflict management strategies or in some cases no strategies in the first place.
Most managers have a tendency to avoid conflicts. Their usual agreement is that it is not a part of their job. Well, guess what? If conflicts can result in a decrease in productivity, then it is your job to identify and have a strategy to handle workplace conflicts.
You may have countless measures to eliminate conflict from the roots. You may have a really great and happy team, but conflict is likely to creep up, eventually.
Before going any further let's look at a few basics.
What is Conflict Management?
In a nutshell, conflict management is the process of identifying and resolving disagreements between two or more stakeholders. The ultimate aim is to weed out factors that might contribute to a conflict in the first place.
In a successful conflict management campaign, all the parties leave a conflict with some level of satisfaction with the decision or outcome.
But before going overboard with any strategy, it is important to understand the kind of issues you are dealing with.
Here are some ways of identifying the kind of conflict situations that can occur in your workplace.
1. Clash of the Titans
One of the most troublesome scenes in an organization is a conflict in leadership. When you have multiple disciplines in your organization, with its own middle managers, a conflict among the leaders is imminent. It becomes difficult to deal with conflicts that involve a clash of egos. Responding to conflicts of such nature becomes complicated and becomes difficult to reach a middle ground. It creates confusion and a massive drop in productivity.
Small businesses where the roles of the middle managers are much more pivotal experience a greater deal of setback due to such conflicts.
2. We are Interdependent, aren’t we?
In an organization, no team is completely isolated. Every team has to work with each other for the ultimate goals of the organization. Increasing the value of the shareholder’s assets.
Every once a while conflict between personnel of different organizations can take place. Raj, from the operations team, can be frustrated with Rahul, the software developer, for not solving a technical issue of a customer quick enough.
This kind of conflict indicates that employees face issues of accountability in the organization.
3. My style is my style, none of your style
It going to be no surprise if we tell you that employees even in very conventional industries have different styles of working.
Someone likes to work in a team and others prefer being a lone wolf. Some people like to work for long durations with balanced energy, others (someone like me) likes to work with periodic bursts of intense energy.
Clashes happen when different styles of people tend to work together. To minimize these kinds of conflicts it is important to conduct proper training and understanding each of the employees' working styles. This will help you minimize conflicts due to personality clashes.
4. Your personality is unique, just like everybody else
This is the most common kind of conflict in the workplace. Clashes due to personality types occur when a perception about the personality of an employee is harbored. If a person is known for cracking jokes, then he is perceived as somewhat less serious than the rest of the flock. This can reflect into his views not being held to the same ideal as the rest of the team. Suddenly the jolly guy transforms into a confrontation maniac.
It's difficult to handle conflicts of these types because of their nature. Leaders and managers are hesitant to enter a personal conflict. Since workplaces now focus more on diversity, more personality clashes are likely to happen. Appropriately tacking gives your company the experience to deal with long term issues of different types of conflict in the workplace.
Different types of conflict management strategies
Since we now have a decent idea of the types of conflict in the workplace, let's look at different strategies on how to handle conflict.
1. Private Resolution
One of the worst things to do during personal conflict is to carry out the conflict resolution publicly. As a team leader, it is your responsibility to shield your team members from the conflict. Also addressing conflict publicly generally tends to take a chip on the shoulders of the stakeholders.
Private sessions allow all stakeholders to address their point of view. Privately tackling conflict also gives you time to think regarding the proper middle ground. It also prevents bystanders from giving meaningless feedbacks.
2. Active listening during a conflict
One of the most common complaints during a conflict is that the one resolving the conflict is not an active listener. They often give suggestions to resolve a conflict without listening to the entire story.
Active listening is an amazing art that will not only solves the conflict but also deal with everyday work more efficiently.
It is easier to give proper feedback to an issue if you are an active listener. When you actively listen to the points of all the parties, it gives the impression that you are considerate of all the stakeholders and also your judgment will carry more weight.
While this might not be a very popular strategy to dissolve conflicts, but its an effective one. A little remainder- it has a few negative outcomes depending on its usage.
Being accommodating means one party gives way or compromises on an issue to dissolve conflict. This method can be used when there is a significant difference between the seniorities of the stakeholders. Juniors can give way to senior employees to resolve a conflict.
It’s usually a good way to dissolve a conflict when one party realizes its fault. But it somewhat loses its purpose when accommodating is done just to ensure peace. This results in complacency in the other group.
Going overboard with this method can result in an assertive party getting its way. Every time. Soon a win-win situation ends up as nothing but losses for the company.
4. Collaborative effort
This is somewhat similar to finding a middle ground during a conflict, but with some differences.
In a collaborative effort, the aim is to find a solution from where everyone feels somewhat content with the result.
Wait, isn’t this the same approach as meeting in the middle ground? Not so much. The difference is that in a middle ground approach, both teams might have to compromise on the outcome.
The satisfaction in the middle ground approach is that the opposite party is not getting their desired outcome from the conflict. In a collaborative approach, the parties are satisfied because they came out of the conflict with something to hold onto.
Where in a middle ground approach all the stakeholders might have to settle for an all-out “loss for all” outcome, a collaborative effort ensures a win-win outcome for everyone.
This approach has multiple benefits. First of all, the stakeholders come out of the conflict with some amount of satisfaction. This ensures that there is no loss in productivity due to the nagging after-effects of the conflict.
And of course, reaching a happy conclusion is a difficult task. This will ensure that all the stakeholders will have to collaborate to some extent. In this way, all the parties get a perspective of all the stakeholders. Finally, since all the parties are involved in the resolution, the problem-solving ability of the group is also tested in this strategy.
This approach is helpful when the conflict is somewhat more serious and multiple perspectives need to be addressed. This helps in looking at all the important issues that the conflict might affect. Also, this strategy often demands a lot of time, so it's not a very optimum strategy when you running low on time and resources.
What if in the conflict, one of the parties has definitely crossed the line? In such a case its important for the manager or even the other stakeholders to be dominant and display a competitive attitude.
This style of conflict resolution is usually stepping right in or pushing the “correct” perspective until the conflict is resolved. These types of conflict in the workplace can really take a toll on the harmony and productivity. If you don't take swift and stern decisions during these kinds of conflicts, then your subordinates will likely see you as an incompetent or weak leader. It takes experience and guts to confront.
Also, these kinds of conflict management strategies are useful when you need to push a decision in a short duration of time and also to prevent a wrong decision being made.
It's one thing to read about conflict management and another to actually hold your nerves during a conflict. Probably the most important quality is the experience. Since every individual is different it’s difficult to assign a certain type of strategy. With experience, you will be able to tweak and adjust different strategies for different personnel.
When different types of conflicts occur, you will be exposed to different scenarios and be forced to make quick on the feet decision.