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Five Steps to Manage & Resolve Conflict in the Workplace
Conflict is a word that causes many of us a great deal of discomfort, anger, frustration, sadness, and even pain. Conflict is not unknown to any of us. We experience it all the time in our daily lives – with families, friends and increasingly in our professional lives. It is a regular aspect of life.
Today we live in a flat world like one big global village. There is an increase in workforce diversity where organizations have teams made up of employees from different geographical locations, diverse cultural and cognitive backgrounds with different perspectives. In a workplace where people have different points of view on the same issues, sooner or later there will inevitably be disagreements.
Conflict can arise when differing views or opinions come to light. When conflict can be seen as nothing more than differing points of view, it sets the stage for possible positive outcomes for the issue at hand.
The idea is not to try to prevent disagreements, but instead to resolve and manage conflicts effectively. When individuals or teams can use the right tools and skills to solve a problem, they can keep their differences from escalating into problems.
Establishing some type of conflict management process in an organization is far better than allowing avoidance, denial, passive-aggressive indirection, or planning how to happen among employees. In the process of conflict resolution, individuals and teams can explore and understand their differences and use the information to interact more positively and productively.
Below are five basic steps to follow when resolving a conflict.
1. Determine a safe place and time to talk
To enable constructive conversation, people usually need to feel that they are in a “safe place” – a place that will allow them to take the risk associated with honest communication about the issues at hand.
This means finding a private and neutral room, a place that is not one person’s or another’s office. For conversations that start in a more public place, it’s helpful for both people to move to a more private area of the room.
Make sure the meeting time is acceptable and convenient for all parties. Complex disagreements cannot be resolved in fifteen minutes or less. If time is limited, define the criteria for the discussion and then fix a time and date for an immediate follow-up.
2. Clarify the individual perceptions involved in the conflict
Each party involved in the conflict must have the opportunity to express their perception or understanding of the conflict. A problem cannot be solved if you are not clear about what the problem is.
Start by sorting out the parts of the conflict. Get straight to the heart of the matter and avoid any unrelated questions not about the current conflict. Discuss the facts and remove the emotion from the situation. Identify the problems clearly and concisely.
When undergoing this process, each person must realize that everyone must participate in order to be most effective.
3. Practice taking an active and empathetic listening position
To achieve a positive outcome in negotiating solutions to workplace conflicts, it is vital to resist the urge to force our ideas on others and instead make a concerted effort to listen to what is being communicated. If we can practice active listening, the likelihood that the other person’s ideas and thoughts (as well as our own) will be heard is greatly improved.
By fostering empathy, team members can identify the other person’s thoughts or feelings and have the ability to understand the other person’s point of view. When teams take a listening stance in the negotiation process, they set the stage for the opportunity to share their concerns about the conflict.
4. Generate options with a view to a winning outcome
In conflict resolution, the winning strategy is a conflict resolution process that aims to accommodate all parties and stems from a sense of justice. Explore and be creative in looking for alternatives and using an external facilitator or mediator if you feel this would benefit the negotiating group.
Begin by addressing one issue at a time, starting with an issue that the parties agree deserves discussion. Generate several possible solutions to the problem by collectively “brainstorming” ideas. Write the different ideas on a flip chart so everyone can see them. Defer any judgment or evaluation at this stage until all ideas have been presented to the group.
Clarify the criteria that individuals or the team will use to evaluate options. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and with mutually acceptable criteria, promising solutions to problems become easier to formulate.
5. Develop an agreement that works for everyone
After the negotiation process and the team has agreed on solutions to each problem, summarize the ideas and put them into writing. Repeat them back to each other to make sure everyone agrees on both the intent of the decision and how it should be implemented.
Seek clarification that everyone is happy with the outcome. If one party is not happy with the outcome but does not say so, then there is a high probability that the problem will arise again.
When the conversation is over, leave the session with a commitment to follow through on the plans you just created.
It is important to note that there is a positive side to successful conflict resolution. As a result of bringing issues to the surface, individuals and teams gain benefits that they may not have achieved otherwise. Such benefits include:
Benefits of conflict resolution
1. A better understanding of how to achieve your goals without undermining other people’s.
2. Increase in group cohesion as team members/colleagues develop greater mutual respect for each other and renewed faith in their ability to work together.
3. Colleagues also benefit from improved self-awareness. Disputes force people to take a closer look at their own goals and help them realize what is important to them and help them focus on increasing their effectiveness at work.
So the next time a problem or concern arises in the workplace, don’t avoid it by acting like an ostrich with your head in the sand; use your conflict resolution skills and confront the problem head-on before it has a chance to escalate into a conflict requiring intervention.
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