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Resilience - Conflict management

Resilience - Conflict management

This article offers information and guidance in order to help managers tackle workplace conflict.

Definition

A disagreement or clash between ideas or people. Conflict management is the identification and control of conflict within an organisation. There are three main philosophies of conflict management: all conflict is bad and potentially destructive; conflict is inevitable and managers should attempt to harness it positively; conflict is essential to the survival of an organisation and should be encouraged.  Conflict may be between managers and their staff, between team members, departments or managers.  Conflict may be expressed openly, or it may be hidden, in the form of irritation, resentment, loss of motivation and lack of commitment.  If nothing is done to address the underlying issues, conflict, whether open or hidden may escalate.  This may be prevented by acting early to address the issues.

Introduction

Conflict is inevitable in any situation where people are working together.  It is important to recognise that not all conflict is negative – creative ideas and problems solving can arise from conflicting opinions – however frequent or prolonged conflict can have a negative impact on interpersonal relationships, morale and stress levels.  The resulting lack of motivation can adversely impact performance, and if conflict is not resolved the situation can be costly in terms of the time and money required to resolve the situation. For these reasons, learning to manage conflict effectively is essential.

What to do

1.    Be aware of conflict

Look out for any conflict that may be developing.  Picking up on, and resolving conflict early on can stop a more difficult situation developing later.

2.    Prepare yourself to take action

Stay calm and consider how to offer an impartial and rational response.  Listen carefully to any information given and take notes so that you can refer to them later.  Check your understanding and try to remain neutral – even if one or both parties try to get you ‘on side’.  Be respectful and avoid passive or aggressive behaviour.  If you are personally involved then you may wish to consider asking another person to step in and handle the issue.   

3.    Investigate the situation

Take time to find out what has happened and who is involved, as well as the thoughts and feelings involved.  Ensure that you respect confidentiality with regards to the information you have been given, and try to listen actively to demonstrate your understanding.  Be aware that there may be underlying issues and try to get beneath what is initially being said.  

4.    Decide on your approach

Once you have investigated the situation, you need to decide on how you will respond and what action you will take.   In making this decision, you may wish to consider the following questions. Is the matter serious? Could it become serious? Are there any legal issues? Do you need to refer to your manger?

5.    Let everyone have their say

If it is practical, organise a meeting where you and the parties involved can sit and discuss the issues in an open and honest way.  As the impartial party, you will need to remain calm yet assertive in order to facilitate a constructive discussion.  Ensure that each person has the opportunity to voice their opinions and if necessary, assist other members of the group in gaining an understanding of what is being said.  If each individual feels that they have been listened to, they will be more willing to compromise.

6.    Identify options and agree on a way forward

Once you have explored the reasons for the disagreement and allowed each individual to have their say, you will be ready to consider reaching an agreement.  This is often the most challenging aspect of Conflict Management.  A good place to start is by asking the individuals concerned to put forward their ideas for a solution, in order to continue to facilitate an open environment.  From these suggestions you may be able to find common ground.  Either way, allow some time for reflection and then ask all concerned to assess each option and agree on which represents the best way forward.   

7.    Implement what has been agreed

Ensure that everyone is clear about what has been agreed and that they are willing to take personal responsibility for the situation going forward.

8.    Evaluate how things are going

Continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the problem does not reappear.

9.    Consider preventative strategies for the future

Take some time to take stock of the situation that has arisen and consider the learning outcomes.  What can you do in order to prevent the situation occurring again in the future?  What changes need to be made in order for this to happen? Additionally, consider how you could improve upon your own skills in response.  

What not to do

  • Ignore signs of growing conflict between team members

  • Jumping to conclusions about the source of conflict before finding out the facts

  • Getting involved too early, before giving others the opportunity to explore their own solutions

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