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Workplace Conflicts Need to be Tackled Promptly and Purposefully
Conflicts are not bad in themselves. In fact, it is the conflict of viewpoints that often direct attention to new and improved solutions. It is when conflict management is poor that it becomes a problem. And the problem can snowball into a very big problem, seriously affecting business performance.
This article focuses on workplace conflict which is far more easily manageable when compared to political and social conflicts. Workplace conflicts, unless they are interpersonal conflicts arising from ego issues, usually arise from poor management.
Differences of values, perspectives and opinions are unavoidable when a group works together. If managers have created good teams, their members will have been trained in discussing their differences in meaningful ways. In fact, vigorous discussions of differing perspectives can typically produce better ways to achieve team objectives.
On the other hand, managers can contribute to conflicts through:
- Not involving their subordinates in decision-making or explaining reasons for the communicated decisions.
- Not defining work roles, leading to confusion on who does what, and often leaving gaps in the sequence of tasks needed to achieve results. The situation gets worse if the manager tries to pass the buck to someone else for the lack of results.
- Asking employees to perform tasks without providing them needed resources, including training in carrying out the tasks.
- Not taking care to understand workplace realities or the situations employees face, and failing to take actions to resolve serious issues.
- Bad interpersonal relationships arising from value conflicts and an inability to tolerate certain traits in others.
Managers can take certain actions to ensure that conflicts do not get out of hand.
- Most important is defining the work roles of all subordinates, and carefully checking that no task gaps exist that can lead to incomplete or unsatisfactory work performance.
- Equally important is the requirement to cultivate relationships with all subordinates, discussing work challenges, workplace issues and accomplishments. One-to-one meetings for such a discussion must be scheduled at least once a month.
- Train employees in interpersonal communications and conflict resolution approaches.
- Hold periodical meetings for communicating new developments and reporting on the progress of projects.
It is important to attend to one’s own internal conflicts. Identify the issues, get some perspective by looking at them in a conscious manner (preferably write everything down), pinpoint any emotional issues that are making things worse and explore alternatives to handle the issue at hand. Take specific actions to resolve the conflict.
If the conflict involves another person, avoid getting heated up. Even if the other person gets angry, managers can usually calm things down by acting as if a normal discussion is taking place. Take care to listen carefully to what the other person is saying. It is a good idea to ask the person to confirm what they are saying.
Try to summarize the points of agreement and disagreement, and ask the other person for suggestions on how to act in the situation. Managers can also suggest some specific action and seek the other person’s concurrence.
Often, letting the other person give vent to feelings, hearing the person out carefully without interrupting, can provide significant relief. This is particularly true if the other person is a subordinate.
If the conflict persists despite all efforts, it might be a good idea to look at the issues involved in terms of the organizational policies and objectives, and approach a third person for mediation or resolution.
Conflicts and their resolution are unavoidable necessities in group situations. People tend to have different values, perspectives and opinions. Conflicts are also good because a serious discussion of the issues can usually lead to a superior solution. Resolution of conflicts is the really important issue. Resolution is possible by addressing the issues, and developing interpersonal and conflict resolution skills through training.