Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Usually the longer any conflict goes on for, the harder it is to solve.  Actively taking steps to intervene when conflict arises in an office environment reduces stress and associated health complaints.  From the company’s point of view it reduces the potential for the reputational damage and financial loss should workers decide to use a tribunal to pursue claims against the company due to conflict. Here are a few tips to help your company get through the almost inevitable occurrence of conflict in the workplace.

Conflicts don’t go away. Conflicts can lie dormant for days, weeks or months and suddenly erupt during a seemingly minor disagreement that makes no sense to an uninvolved onlooker.  Unresolved workplace conflicts can rapidly effect the workplace climate or culture. Whole teams are drawn in as conflict spreads and more people have opinions and become involved. This can lead to a perceived or real bullying and harassment if some employees are left feeling isolated.  Conflict is at the root of many claims employees take against their company or former company.  Many former employees who make claims that involve conflict cite that nobody listened to them or watched while they were being victimised. Many in this situation feel they were left with no other option but leave their employment and were constructively dismissed.

To begin to assess the conflict between two or more people you manage, it is wise to meet with those involved separately in order to get a clear idea of the root causes of the problem and uncover potential solutions before any formal interventions are made. Although it can be surprising, the parties involved frequently have very different perceptions of what caused the conflict.  Understanding the positions of all those involved will assist you in seeing what is important to each person, and to attempt to find common ground between them.

As manager, it is imperative that you do not attempt to judge who is right and who is wrong.  This approach could seriously escalate the conflict further. Your job is to focus on what issues need to be solved for the individuals involved in the conflict and if you are in a position to help them find that common ground enough to allow them get past the resentment that has built up and work effectively as part of the team. You will need to be a skilful listener and avoid making assumptions before having these conversations. Once you’ve discussed the problems with all parties involved, you can decide whether you are capable to mediate between the parties or if you will need the help of HR or external mediators. 

In general, complicated and long-standing problems involving a number of individuals are best left for experienced mediators to deal with. These kinds of workplace conflicts are often very sensitive and require a high level of skill to find a resolution. While, from a managers perspective, it may feel like an annoyance to have to give internal conflicts so much focus at, possibly a crucial time for the business, it is important that these internal battles are treated as a top priority. If they are not fully addressed, they could do serious damage to performance productivity and wider office relationships within the company.

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