Before we get into what is conflict resolution and how to implement conflict resolution in the workplace,let's look at the basics first.
Conflict resolution in the workplace should be dealt from the root of the problem. What does conflict actually mean?
Cambridge Dictionary explains conflict as “An active disagreement between people with opposing principles or ideology."
Key pointers you should look out for in the definition- Active, Disagreement and Opposing.
So resolving conflict has the same approach to a problem-solving scenario-
- Making the opposing parties reach a common ground.
- Resolve the disagreement.
- Turn the active into passive.
Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Well, not so much( if it was, you wouldn’t be here in the first place)
The true test of a manager or the hr department is not when things are going alright, but when things are going haywire.
Conflict resolution in the workplace is a must have quality for every manager.
Workplace conflict can stem productivity and kill the atmosphere in the office.
A study by the American Management Association (AMA) found that managers spend 24% of their time managing conflict in the workplace, often without any guarantee of resolving the conflict.
"Conflict can destroy a team which hasn't spent time learning to deal with it." Thomas Isgar
Handle Conflict: What has to be learned ?
Dr Donna Hicks, Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, has an interesting take on this. She was working on various parts of the world on international conflicts, and what she noticed was that there was a psychological dimension to these conflicts.
She had to bring these people involved in the conflict to try and come to a common ground to end the violence. But for some reason, they couldn't reach an agreement.
There was something else going on here. There was a deep emotional aspect to this resistance.
What happened was, both the parties involved in the conflict were so angry with the way the others had treated them that they didn’t even want an agreement in the first place.
At the end of the day, it was about their dignity. It was now a matter of addressing this idea before resolving the conflict.
She now uses the same insight for conflict resolution in the workplace.
Some of the underlying cause of conflicts between management and employees were related to dignity. She ended up solving the conflict-related issues in various industries from healthcare to education and everything in between.
The key was to create a culture where people felt their dignity is being honoured. When dignity takes a chip on the shoulder, conflict is inevitable.
There are even neurological researches where the researchers found that when people’s dignity is harmed it produces the same response in the brain as in the case of a physical injury.
How Does Dignity Take A Fall
Here we are going to take examples of everyday indignities. We won’t be talking about obvious dignity mismatch where people are breaking the law or fist fighting.
What happens is generally people don’t understand the sensitivity or volatility of how their actions can affect other people.
1. The Unsuspecting Favorite
This one plays a very important role in unsettling nerves.
This is so evident in the workplace that employees usually take for granted that there will be favoritism irrespective of the type of management. Leaders tend to have favorites among their team members.
This tends to create a hostile approach towards the favored group by the rest of the employees. This hinders effective communication between teams and employees.
And just like that, you have to handle conflict at the workplace.
People want a sense of belonging and inclusion in the workplace. Imagine working on a project and a different team gets selected to present the idea.
Favoritism is a really common violation of ego and leads to some severe consequences.
2. Face To Face Feedback
One of the ways in which workplace conflicts increases is when people are hesitant to speak up.
People don’t feel safe to speak up when something bad happens to them. Something bad like when their employers don’t treat them well, or they are discriminated against.
They are terrified that they won’t get a good performance review or anything that might end up hampering their stay at the company.
Often this happens without any knowledge of the manager because employees are scared of face to face confrontation.
They are afraid of giving face to face feedback to their employers in case anything bad happens. This ends up having a cumulative effect on the employees which ends up as a conflict of interest against their company.
This makes effective conflict resolution that much harder. Without communication it becomes difficult for managers and subordinates to come to a common ground.
Managers aren’t able to address conflict because they don’t even know that someone took a chip on their shoulders!
But the blame is not just on the subordinates. The blame for the lack of effective communication is to be shared by both parties.
One Harvard Business Study Review revealed that most managers are uncomfortable taking a face to face feedback from their employees.
In the same review, HBR found that a face to face feedback is 34 times more impactful than other methods.
This might seem like common sense but it's not common knowledge.
3. Unapologetic Work Environment
In a practical world, mistakes happen and your company is no exception. Workplace conflicts skyrockets when people don’t apologize for their mistakes.
An unapologetic team member usually ends up not only chipping the shoulders of his associates but also sows the seed for an unapologetic work environment.
This leads to high rates of conflict in the workplace when people feel they are not getting the deserved apology from their team members.
Effective Conflict Resolution In The Workplace
Now that you have a relatively decent idea of how conflict can arise in a workplace, how do you go about resolving it?
There are a few key ways in which you can properly handle conflicts. And yes these ideas somewhat revolves around the root cause of the conflict, puncture in dignity.
1. Establishing A Culture To Address Conflict
One of the key aspects of establishing a culture to address conflict is to have an atmosphere of mediators. This is one of the most important roles in the organization in terms of addressing workplace conflicts.
You don’t need to specifically assign employees to be mediators. They can be anyone who is not involved in the conflict and is close to all the parties involved in the conflict.
The basic function of the mediator is to establish a common ground for all the parties in the conflict with the help of effective communication. It is important for the mediator to not practice favoritism towards anyone. His point of view should encompass from all the possible perspectives for effective conflict resolution in the workplace.
2. Amplify Face To Face Interaction
As mentioned earlier, people have skeptical views about face to face interaction and feedback. And fear stems both ways, from employers to employees.
Employees feel that whenever they give feedback on any wrong treatment by the managers, it won’t end well. They fear a negative impression in their performance review or in their paycheck.
Managers or employers don’t really help in improving the work enviroment. When Donna Hicks ran a survey with the managers of various organization, she noticed that they usually took feedback as a negative aspect.
Managers tend to take face to face feedbacks as criticism and usually act upon it as the employees suspected. This makes resolving conflicts an intensely difficult process.
Employee frustration bottles up and is usually focused towards other employees which result in workplace conflicts.
3. Effective Communication And Accountable At Workplace
One of the most frustrating experiences is having to work in a workplace where the conversation is hard and employees don’t interact often. This leads to an increase in grudges among employees and also decreases accountability.
By accountability we mean, people not being accountable for the mistakes they make.What employees in such a workforce do is that they play the blame game which leads to frustrating results.
As mentioned, an unapologetic workforce can lead to conflict. And without effective communication, conflict resolution in the workplace becomes that much harder.
When people apologize for their wrong doing it creates a very uplifting atmosphere to work in. Conduct sessions and seminars to encourage effective communication. This will ensure every team and every team member to work in a conflict-free environment and makes conflict resolution in the workplace that much easier.
In The End
Conflict resolution in the workplace is one of the most challenging areas to deal with it. The challenge intensifies due to its nature of sensitiveness. But as a manager or HR, it is a part and parcel of the job. Conflict is inevitable in the workplace.
If problem solving is a highlight of your CV, then you cannot hide when a conflict arises in the workplace. You should make sure you bring every stakeholder at a common ground, look at every point of view and finally handle conflict in the workplace.
If you can properly address conflict, it is likely that you will become a legend at the workplace!
Of course, there is no guarantee that these methods will work, but if you don’t try there is 100% chance that you will fail!