Conflict starts with expectations. It shows up when we hope, need or even demand that something or someone meets our expectations or understands our needs, but they don’t.
Conflict can be triggered by many things, such as a partner being late for dinner, a manager imposing an unreasonable deadline, a customer complaining about a service, or a friend forgetting a birthday.
Conflict highlights differences and creates clashes, which is why it’s common at work. People with different personalities, opinions, beliefs, and ways of working are all sharing the same space. There may also be unresolved grudges at play; bullying, harassment, or any number of small or large unmet expectations. And it’s still a conflict even if only one side is aware of the problem.
It’s common for people to wait for conflict to disappear on its own or even to wait for someone else to fix it, which can lead to a number of issues in the workplace; it’s an accident waiting to happen…
Conflicts that aren’t handled properly can result in an unexpected argument or an aggressive outburst; or can even result in a surprise resignation, for example, and you may never get to the bottom of what happened, or why.
However, there is always a reason for conflict, and having the right set of skills can help you identify it and respond to it in a healthy way. Seeking a resolution is the best course of action.
How to deal with conflict at work
Conflict occurs in all types of workplaces between people of any seniority. Therefore, it is essential that employers ensure that they are doing what they can to reduce conflicts from happening and to control them before they escalate.
Promote conflict resolution techniques
One of the best ways of reducing workplace conflicts is by equipping staff with the knowledge needed to prevent conflicts from becoming a major issue. Here are a couple of our tips...
Write down your thoughts - Although this is less effective for minor issues, you can try this for more complicated conflicts. Make two lists: one for the emotional factors and the other for logical factors. By doing this, you’ll have a better understanding of how you feel about the situation, but also about the reality of the situation. The aim is to gather information before you communicate your thoughts.
Communicate well - Communicating is key. One simple conversation has the power to undo or prevent a lot of damage. Most conflict can actually be prevented and resolved through clear, kind communication, whereas negative communication or a lack of it can cause conflict and let it fester - even one lost email or one thoughtless word can lead to mishaps or pointing fingers.
There are a few techniques that can be really useful for improving communication.
The first technique is active listening. Listening to the other person’s side is crucial in helping you to understand their feelings and opinions. And if it’s a conflict that needs serious attention, active listening is especially important.
The second technique is responsive listening. It is effective at preventing miscommunication. There are two steps:
- Listen to understand what the other person is saying
- Repeat their ideas back to them, to confirm you’ve understood
This is often a case of paraphrasing and asking non-judgemental questions to clarify that you’ve heard them correctly once they’ve finished speaking. It gives the person you’re talking with a chance to fill in any important gaps that you may have missed, which should help to stop conflicts from occurring as often.
Implement a conflict resolution strategy
It’s in everyone’s best interests for an organisation to have a general strategy in place. This can be a series of steps. It should start by ensuring there’s a positive workplace culture, where there is zero-tolerance for negative behaviour. But this can also include:
- Providing Conflict Resolution Training
- Offering in-house mediation
- Having clear and simple Grievance and Disciplinary procedures
- Having an Anti Bullying and Harassment Policy
- Providing information on ACAS and their services
An organisation should promote early, informal action - anything that encourages respectful conversation and an open-minded approach. This has a much better chance of successfully repairing working relationships. Especially if management are trained to mediate difficult conversations. People who use conflict resolution skills naturally become less involved in conflict anyway, which creates a much smoother working environment and a healthier workplace culture.
Conflict Resolution Training
Here at iHASCO, we offer an online Conflict Resolution Training course that aims to equip all levels of staff with the knowledge they need to handle and resolve conflicts at work.
The CPD Accredited course, which can be completed in just 30 minutes, is broken down into three sections including an introduction to conflict, tips & techniques, and how to handle serious conflicts.
With an estimated 85% of employees dealing with conflict at work at some point, and around 29% dealing with it on a regular basis, it is evident that employers must do what they can to help their employees resolve conflict at work.