Carine van Rooyen
In most work teams, conflict is more or less inevitable. Poor outcomes, however, are not. Conflict situations could arise when, within a work team, personalities clash or there is disagreement about certain core values.
Conflict, when compared to workplace disputes, is usually more of a long-term situation. And while, initially, it may involve only two individuals, it may escalate, with team members choosing sides. Eventually the whole office could be involved, and an extremely volatile atmosphere could be the result.
When people focus on their distress, their work no doubt suffers. Office conflict can lead to lower employee productivity (where gossip and tension becomes a waste of valuable time and energy), poor work attendance, low employee morale, and non-cooperation within the work team. It may even lead to resignations and costly reappointments. At some point or another, it will become crucial for management to intervene. Of course, the trick is not to let things get out of hand in the first place. But how can this be achieved?
Preventing workplace feuds
There are many ways in which you, as manager, can minimise those conflict triggers that could have a negative impact on your company. Some of these include:
1. Make wise appointments. Make sure that when you hire a new employee, the person fits in with the rest of the team. It might be a good idea to involve a few of the other team members, who will work directly with the new employee, in the selection process.
2. Open communication. Clear, regular communication is the key to strong working relationships at the office. It's important for managers to be accessible, so that employees can voice their concerns as soon as they arise.
3. Be fair. Make sure work and work hours are distributed evenly. Don't let certain employees get away with doing less than others – this will no doubt lead to conflict. Also try to keep your employees busy. This way, they'll have less time for gossip and squabbles.
4. Involve employees in conflict resolution training. Invest in training that will teach everyone conflict-resolution skills, and expect people to use them.
5. Set strategies in place. Implement a grievance policy and procedure. Conflict can be passed up the hierarchy to a common superior for resolution. This way, management will stay on top of potentially volatile situations.
6. Ensure clear guidelines. Establish clear guidelines for dealing with potential conflict triggers, such as sexual harassment or racial bias. Communicate these guidelines clearly the moment you appoint new employees.
7. Set common goals. Focus on tasks, not personalities, and make sure employees work together towards common goals. Make sure that employees are rewarded when targets are reached.
For most people, conflict is associated with a negative, destructive situation. And, yes, it certainly has the potential to wreak havoc within a work team. But it needn't be a bad thing. Constructive conflict management can produce creative solutions to problems, higher-quality relationships, and constructive change. The key is to resolve conflict in such a way that it improves the situation for all the relevant parties involved. Important steps in this process include:
1. Identify the problem. Find out what the source of the conflict is and in what stage the conflict is in. The aim is to try to get involved as soon as possible.
2. Give both sides a voice. Arrange for a meeting 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. Don't meet with the parties separately – this could give the more persuasive party an unfair advantage.
3. Work through the differences. This will require time and commitment. Here, the aim is to bring about greater understanding of the parties' 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.
4. Identify solutions. Find a resolution for each issue. The best way to do this is to ensure that both parties play an active role in identifying a solution to the different issues. Listen carefully as the employees blow off steam, and then wait for them to propose their own solutions.
5. Reach a compromise. When resolving conflict,the aim should be a win-win outcome, where both parties obtain their goals through creative integration of their concerns. Get both parties to acknowledge the issues, and agree to move forward. It might be a good idea to get them to sign an agreement.
6. Keep communication channels open. Ensure that relevant parties meet regularly to discuss any awkward situations or problems that could give rise to future conflict situations.
7. Do follow-up. Remember to do follow-up in due course, for example three months after the initial meeting. Check whether the issues are resolved, and whether further mediation is required.
Reference: Cook, C.W. Hunsaker, P.L. (2001) Management and Organizational Behavior: 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Written by Carine van Rooyen
Our appreciation to www.careers24.com for permission to publish this article.