Managing conflict within the workplace

The Art of Managing Conflict at Work

Managing conflict within the workplace can challenge even the most robust employees. Let's explore this hot topic in this month's e-newsletter.

Conflict at work, as in any social or organisational setting, is unavoidable.

Conflict occurs when there is a difference of interests or opinions between two parties. People often perceive conflict as negative however, when handled well conflict can be an opportunity to improve workplace outcomes, strengthen relationships, and boost creativity.
 
When handled poorly or left unresolved however, research has found that conflict can lead to lower levels of workplace morale, productivity, sales, cooperation and collaboration, higher staff turnover and incurs a significant cost each year. 
 
Conflict is so common and prevalent in the workplace, that research from Queensland Government has found that:

  • 65% of employee performance problems are the result of strained relationships.
  • Over 30% of managers’ time is spent dealing with disputes.

The ability to recognize, understand and resolve conflict effectively is an important skill in the workplace and particularly important among workplace leaders.

Therefore, this month we are focusing on how to manage conflict effectively in the workplace.

UNDERSTANDING CONFLICT

Sources of Conflict

In order to understand the conflict, we first must analyse the source of the conflict to gain perspective.
 
Four main types of conflict in the workplace:

  • Relationship (a personal disagreement/interpersonal or emotional conflict)
  • Task (disagreement over what a goal of a task or project is)
  • Process (disagreement over how to achieve a goal)
  • Status (disagreement over your position in a group)

Sources of Conflict

In addition, other factors that influence conflict include:

  • Mental illness
  • Personality style
  • History
  • Scarce resources
  • Organisational problems
  • Skills deficit
  • A lack of information

UNDERSTAND YOUR NATURAL CONFLICT STYLE

Generally, there are two types of people in conflict situations:

Avoiders

  • People who try to avoid conflict, hiding and shying away it.
  • Values = harmony, positive relationships and avoiding hurting other people’s feelings
  • Tends to want to accommodate others.

Seekers

  • People who are keen to engage in conflict when it arises or actively seek conflict
  • Values = directness, honesty, and often takes on the role of advocate
  • Tends to be a fighter.

Once you understand your tendencies towards handling conflict as well as your counterpart’s tendencies – you can then learn how to effectively manage this conflict. For example, if you’re both avoiders, one of you will need to take the lead. However, if you are both seekers, you will need to focus on taking breaks to de-escalate the emotions in the conflict.

RESPONDING TO CONFLICT

The Options: There are four different ways of managing conflict in the workplace:

  1. Do nothing (this is the most common!!)
    • Pros: ideal when you don’t think addressing the conflict will change anything, you have very little energy to deal with the conflict as takes little effort
    • Cons: it can be frustrating to put aside your feelings, can reinforce bad behaviour
  2. Address conflict indirectly (e.g. ask someone to address the issue on your behalf)
    • Pros: is useful when you feel that your colleague may be more willing to take feedback from someone else
    • Cons: Can be ineffective if the counterpart doesn’t listen to someone else or understand your meaning, can be seen as backhanded
  3. Address conflict directly (e.g. talk directly about the issue to your counterpart)
    • Pros: useful when you have tried other tactics and they have not worked, can make your connection with that person stronger, can improve your work performance if you are able to take on the other person’s views
    • Cons: Might be perceived as aggressive or combative
  4. Exit the relationship (e.g. quit your job, move departments – often the last resort)
    • Pros: can give you a sense of relief, protect you from wasting more time, energy and stress
    • Cons: would require a lot of work from you to change departments/jobs, may hurt other relationships, could be perceived as you being difficult to work with
  5.  

HOW TO DECIDE HOW TO RESPOND TO CONFLICT

There is no perfect way of handling conflict. The ideal approach is a collaborative, problem-solving approach to conflict however there are some scenarios where doing nothing, exiting the relationship, or avoiding the conflict may be the most appropriate response.

Here are steps to follow to help aid this decision:

  1. Understand the conflict better. 

    • What are you and your counterparts’ natural tendencies? 

    • What is causing the conflict?

      • E.g. relationship, task, process, status

  2. Be clear of your goal and consider your counterpart’s goal.

    • What do you want to accomplish e.g. preserve the relationship, establish project direction.

  3. Pick one of the four options after assessing for pros and cons.

    • Do nothing, address indirectly, address directly, exit.

  4. Prepare for your chosen option. 

    • Plan out what you want to achieve, how you might approach this, role play with a friend or colleague, prepare for worst case scenarios.

  5. Try it out.

  6. Reflect on whether this approach worked and re-assess.

  7. Try something else or seek help.

  8.  

If you or someone close to you needs support, contact Acacia Connection for an appointment.

P: 1300 364 273 | Text or Live Chat: 0401 337 711 | W: acaciaconnection.com

TOP TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE CONFLICT

If you do decide to try a collaborative, problem solving approach to resolving your conflict, read our top 10 conflict resolution tips:

  1. Prepare! 
    • The more you prepare, the more effective your conflict resolution will be
  2. Adopt an open, non-threatening approach 
    • check the tone and volume of your voice, avoid accusatory statements
  3. Acknowledge your counterpart’s emotions and perspective
    • Listen to your counterpart! The more we acknowledge emotions, the more people will feel heard and listen to you in return
  4. Seek common ground
    • E.g. we both want to perform well on this project
  5. Choose the right place 
    • If you choose to address your conflict, make sure that it is the right time and place – a packed lunch room might not be the most appropriate option
  6. Be solution-focused
    • Enter a discussion of conflict with multiple solutions to present in order to reach resolution more quickly.
  7. Take a break 
    • Be willing to walk away and cool down if conflict becomes too escalated, in order to resolve conflict, we need to feel calm and rash
  8. Sleep on it
    • Before you respond to conflict, take 24 hours to cool off, go home and gain some clarity in the process instead of being rash.
  9. Vent
    • Make sure you talk about your frustrations to someone else to effectively manage your anger before entering the discussion with your counterpart
  10. Ask for help
    • Some conflict is incredibly difficult to resolve on your own.
    • If you are stuck, call Acacia Connection to speak to a counsellor who can help you manage this conflict or advise you to speak to HR or carry out mediation.
    • We recommend to seek mediation through our sister business Evolve Workplaces – www.evolveworkplaces.com

 

Conflict, when left unresolved, can be detrimental at work to our happiness, work performance, and wellbeing. However, if managed effectively it can bring with it increased creativity, leadership opportunities, and stronger relationships. So why not use some of these tips in your workplace and see what a difference effective conflict resolution can make to you and others.

EVOLVE WORKPLACES

Feeling stuck? Need some extra help?

Sometimes it can be difficult to resolve conflict yourself. Where you are unable to resolve conflict yourself you can: 

  • Seek out support from your Manager or HR dept
  • If the conflict is with your Manager or HR, look to your policies to find out how to escalate it to some other person within the organisation
  • If the conflict is with your Manager or HR, look to your policies to find out how to escalate it to some other person within the organisationMediation(we recommend attempting this prior to escalating your concerns)
  • mediation can be held internally or by an external professional
  • if you are dissatisfied with the way with your internal processes, request an external mediation
  • The cost of mediations are minimal compared to the cost of escalating conflict on you personally (career and health) and financially (time spent by all involved, other associated expenses).
  • We recommend using an Accredited, Specialised and Experienced firm such as Evolve Workplaces to conduct these.