Conflict is a word that causes many of us a great degree of discomfort, anger, frustration, sadness, and even pain. Conflict is no stranger to any of us. We experience it all the time in our daily lives – with our families, friends and increasingly so in our professional lives. It is a regular aspect of life.
Today we live in a flat world as one big global village. There is an increase in workforce diversity whereby organizations have teams comprised of employees from different geographic locations, diverse cultural and cognitive backgrounds with various outlooks. In the workplace where individuals have different perspectives on the same issues, sooner or later, there are bound to be disagreements sooner or later.
Conflict can happen when different views or opinions come to light. When conflict can be seen as nothing more than different points of views, it sets the stage for possible positive outcomes for the issue at hand.
The idea is not to try to prevent disagreements, instead to resolve and manage conflicts effectively. When individuals or teams can use appropriate resolution tools and skills to address an issue, they can keep their differences from escalating into problems.
Establishing some type of conflict management process within an organization is far better than allowing avoidance, denial, passive-aggressive indirectness, or plotting how to occur amongst the employees. In the conflict resolution process, 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 in resolving a conflict.
1. Identify a safe place and time to talk
To allow for a constructive conversation, individuals generally need to feel that they are in a ‘safe place’ – one that will enable them to take the risk involved for honest communication about the issues at hand.
This means finding a private and neutral room, a location that isn’t the office of one person or the other. For conversations that start in a more public place, it is helpful if the two persons can move to a more private area within the room.
Ensure the amount of time for a meeting is acceptable and appropriate for all parties. Complex disagreements can not be resolved in fifteen minutes or less. If time is limited, determine the criteria for the discussion and then fix a time and date for immediate follow up.
2. Clarify individual perceptions involved in the conflict
Each party involved in the conflict must have an opportunity to express his or her perception or understanding of the conflict. An issue can’t be solved if you are unclear what the problem is about.
Start by sorting out the parts of the conflict. Get straight to the heart of the matter and avoid any unrelated issues, not about the conflict at hand. Discuss facts and remove the emotion from the situation. Identify problems clearly and concisely.
When undergoing this process, each person must recognize that everyone needs to be involved to being the most effective.
3. Practice taking an active and empathetic listening stance
To obtain a positive outcome in negotiating solutions to workplace conflict, it is vital that we resist the desire to force our ideas onto others and instead make a concerted effort to listen to what is being conveyed. 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 advocating empathy, team members can identify the thoughts or feelings of the other person and have the capacity to understand the other person’s point of view. When teams take a listening stance in the negotiation process, they set the scene for the opportunity to share their concerns about the conflict.
4. Generate options with the vision of a win-win outcome
In conflict resolution, a win-win strategy is a conflict resolution process that aims to accommodate all parties and arises out of a sense of fairness. Explore and be creative in searching alternatives and the use of an external facilitator or mediator if you feel it would be beneficial to the group engaged in negotiations.
Begin by taking one issue at a time, starting with an issue that the parties agree is worthy of discussion. Generate several possible solutions to the problem by collectively “brainstorming” ideas. Write down the various ideas on a flip chart so that everyone can see them. Defer any judgments or evaluations at this stage until all ideas have been presented to the group.
Clarify the criteria that the individuals or team will be used for evaluating 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 all
After the negotiation process and the team has reached an agreement regarding solutions to each problem, summarize the ideas and put them in writing. Restate them back to each other to ensure everyone agrees with both the intent of the solution and how it is to be carried out.
Seek clarification that everyone is satisfied with the outcome. If one party is not happy with the outcome but is not saying so, then there is a strong likelihood that the problem will arise again.
As the conversation comes to a close, leave the session with a commitment to implement the plans that you have just created.
It is important to note that there is a positive side to resolving conflicts successfully. As a result of issues being brought to the surface, individuals and teams gain benefits that they may not have otherwise achieved. Such benefits include:
Benefits of Conflict Resolution
1. An increased understanding of how to achieve one’s goals without undermining those of other people.
2. Increases in group cohesion as team members/co-workers develop a greater mutual respect for one another and renewed belief in their ability to work together.
3. Co-workers also benefit from improved self-knowledge. Disputes force individuals to take a closer look at their own goals and help them to realize what is important to them, and help them to focus on enhancing their effectiveness at work.
So next time an issue or concern arises at the workplace, don’t avoid it by acting like an ostrich with his head in the sand; employ your conflict resolution skills and face the issue head-on before it has a chance to escalate into a conflict requiring intervention.