Workplace conflict is as natural as breathing

By on March 24, 2014
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Conflict is as natural as breathing; when people are required to live, work, or play together there is always the potential for conflict. In fact various studies show that as much as 60 percent of human resource management time is spent on managing and resolving workplace conflict.

In a business environment that relies heavily on team structures and task relationships in which individuals are collectively managed, assessed, and rewarded, workplace conflict is almost inevitable.

Not all conflict is bad

However, not all conflict is negative; it depends on the type of conflict and how well it is managed. Within the workplace, conflict can arise as a result of opposing ideas, opinions, decisions, and actions relating to a work related issue or it can be personal.

“Irrespective of the type of conflict, if not managed properly, it can have a significant and negative impact on a business,” says Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions. “This includes decreased productivity, lowered morale, increased absenteeism due to the physical and mental health-related consequences of stress, staff turnover, and ultimately the knock-on effect these issues have on the business’ performance.”

She continues, If workplace conflict is centred on a work related issue and it is managed well, it can have a significant and positive impact on a business. After all, conflict is a form of communication that allows varying perspectives and ideas to be presented and analysed; an opportunity to focus minds and energy on a common goal. This process could lead to a compromise that was previously not considered or to a solution that is more innovative and creative than any that existed prior to the conflict.”

Successfully managing conflict

To successfully manage and resolve conflict in such a way requires strong leadership. Widely regarded as one of the most challenging functions of people management or dispute resolution demands specific skills and if not done properly, can have the opposite effect. For this reason, many companies choose to rather bring in the unbiased and professional skills of a mediator.

Nine strategies for successful conflict resolution include the following:

• Remain completely objective, do not mediate if you are directly involved in the issue, either personally or professionally, rather refer the matter       to another manager or outsourced professional.
• Ensure that you identify a common goal up front and continually focus the discussion and interaction on that goal.
• Set a deadline for the desired resolution.
• Ask that all parties involved present their arguments in a professional and respectful manner.
• Request that they present research and facts to back up their suggestions and opinions.
• Encourage the opposing sides to acknowledge and compliment proposals and ideas that warrant it.
• Brainstorm all suggestions, ideas, opinions and arguments in the hope that the process will reveal a compromise or spark innovation.
• Utilise your human resource department or professional partners to guide, assist and oversee the process.
• Document and record the process and all outcomes as the solutions may only present themselves on review of the content.

If the opposing parties have greatly different skills levels, maturity, confidence, or communication skills, the situation may require that you investigate and research various conflict resolutions strategies and tools, of which there are many.

“The ideal situation is to create a workplace culture that invites and welcomes individual thinking, diverse opinions and conflict conversations underpinned by the values of respect, open-mindedness and humility. This culture will foster a team environment that sees and realises the value of conflict as a constructive rather than destructive natural process,” concludes Vittee.

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