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Workplace conflict is inevitable when employees of various backgrounds and different work styles are brought together for a shared business purpose. Conflict can—and should—be managed and resolved. With tensions and anxieties at an all-time high due to the current political divide and racial inequity discussions at work, the chances for workplace conflict have increased.
What is conflict management?
Conflict management is the practice of being able to identify and managing conflicts sensibly, fairly, and efficiently. Conflict management process deals with (perceived) incompatibilities or disagreements arising from, for example, diverging opinions, objectives, and needs.
Since conflicts in a business are a natural part of the workplace, it is important that there are people who understand conflicts and know how to resolve them. This is important in today's times more than ever. Everyone is striving to show how valuable they are to the company they work for and at times, this can lead to disputes with other members of the team.
Although conflict is generally regarded as having a negative effect in the workplace, a degree of conflict is actually normal and healthy. In fact, many believe it's a vital ingredient to organisational success. The most effective teams are those in which members feel safe enough to disagree with one another. A culture where dissent is allowed, or even encouraged, can spur innovation, diversity of thought and better decision-making.
Alternatively, conflict becomes unhealthy when it becomes personal and emotional, often resulting in clouded judgment. By contrast, good conflict can lead to higher levels of trust. If people see that it's OK to challenge their manager, they can question the status quo, which is better for the company.
Difference is at the heart of conflict, so it's important to explore areas where people often don't align. Common causes of workplace conflict include:
Signs of conflict include:
A well-functioning work environment is one in which employees communicate with respectful, inoffensive language; show tolerance and acceptance of differences among each other; and demonstrate respect for all individuals in the organisation regardless of position, status or tenure.
If an employer has mechanisms in place to resolve conflict at its early stages, employees will generally see their employer as fair in their dealings with them and will likely be more satisfied with their jobs. Reductions in employee conflict can lead to increased employee productivity, greater motivation and loyalty, lower medical costs, fewer workers' compensation claims, and reduced litigation costs.
Unresolved issues of interpersonal tension and conflict can create emotional stress for employees, politicise the workplace and divert attention from the organisation's mission. If employers do not act, conflicts will escalate into larger problems, discrimination and harassment complaints may increase, and the employer's reputation could be damaged. Other possible consequences of failing to manage workplace conflict include:
Employers should also take steps to manage the growing trends of incivility and bullying in the workplace. Employers are well-advised to treat such types of power conflicts seriously and to seek to address them proactively.
Common conflict management styles.
Following are the common ways for managing conflicts:
1. Collaborating: This conflict management style produces the best long-term results, but it is frequently the most difficult and time-consuming to achieve.The needs and desires of each party are considered, and a win-win solution is found so that everyone is satisfied.
This frequently entails all parties sitting down together, discussing the conflict, and negotiating a solution together. The collaborating conflict management style is used when it is critical to maintain all parties' relationships or when the solution itself will have a significant impact.
2. Competing: The competing conflict management style rejects compromise and does not give in to the opinions or desires of others. One party is adamant about how they believe a situation should be handled and will not back down until they get their way.
This can be in situations where morals require a specific course of action, when there isn't time to try a different solution, or when an unpopular decision must be made. It can quickly resolve disputes, but it has a high risk of lowering morale and productivity.
3. Avoiding: A conflict manager that has great conflict management skills seeks to reduce conflict by ignoring it, removing the conflicting parties, or evading it in some way. Team members who are in disagreement can be removed from the project, deadlines pushed, or people reassigned to other departments.
If a cool-down period would be beneficial or if you need more time to consider your stance on the conflict itself, this can be an effective conflict management styles. However, avoidance should not be used in place of proper conflict resolution; putting off conflict indefinitely can and will lead to more (and larger) conflicts down the road.
4. Accommodating: The accommodating conflict management style is all about putting the needs of the other party ahead of one's own. You let them 'win' and have their way. Accommodation is used when you don't care as much about the issue as the other person, if prolonging the conflict isn't worth your time, or if you believe you're wrong.
This option is about keeping the peace, not putting in more effort than is necessary, and knowing when to pick your battles. While it may appear to be a weak option, accommodation can be the best way to resolve a minor conflict and move on to more important issues. This style is highly cooperative on the resolver's part, but it can lead to resentment.
5. Compromising: This conflict management style seeks a middle ground by asking both parties to give up some aspects of their desires in order to reach an agreement. This style is sometimes referred to as "lose-lose," because both parties will have to give up a few things in order to reach an agreement on the larger issue.
When there is a time constraint or when a solution simply needs to happen rather than be perfect, this is used. Compromise can breed resentment, especially when used excessively as a conflict resolution tactic, so use it sparingly.
When should you seek a conflict management consultant?
While it's better to address workplace conflicts as soon as possible and at a local level, sometimes you need outside help. Those situations include the following:
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