In a previous blog, we discussed how to deal with a difficult co-worker i.e. if you are part of a conflict at work. However, you may be the mitigator between the conflict of others, for example, between people in your team. One thing is for sure, if not resolved, conflict can be highly destructive. There are various reasons why conflict between people may arise in the workplace.
Causes of conflict at work
Each person has a unique lens that determines how they filter and process the information they receive in their daily life. This is based on many factors that span a duration from birth to the present time. This filter can cause assumptions to be made that were not intended to be part of the communication.
This can happen when the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence is vague. It can also happen when a word has multiple meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Communication should be kept simple and clear.
Lack of planning may lead to moving from one crisis to the next. This lack of direction can be stressful for many as it may fuel confusion, anger, and frustration.
Different personalities will have a different approach to the same task. These approaches are not always compatible and can be the foundation of continual conflict between people.
What then, is the process to successfully deal with conflict in the workplace?
The 10 step process for resolving conflict at work
- Embrace the existence of conflict
Like change, it will happen at some point. Conflict is inevitable, so your best option is to plan for it. When conflict does occur, you will be prepared to handle it in such a resourceful manner that you will set the standard for the way future conflict is resolved.
- Focus on behaviours, not personalities
It makes the situation less emotionally charged and keeps it less personal. When emotions are not clouding their judgement they are able to generate new ideas, communicate a different perspective and see possible solutions that would have been unlikely otherwise. Also, when the focus is not on 'who they are' but on 'how they behave', it will encourage acceptance of any proposed compromise.
- Speak with each person
Individually, privately and at an agreed time, to understand both sides of the story. As the saying goes… there is his side, there is her side and there is the truth. Speaking with each person involved in the conflict will help you to better assess the situation because you will have information from multiple perspectives.
- Listen actively and ask probing questions
Do this to gather all relevant information, uncover the reason for the disagreement and generate better solutions. Asking open-ended questions encourages the person to explain the situation as they experience it, which can be the start of diffusing a tense situation.
- Summarise their points and seek confirmation that you have understood them correctly
To avoid adding another level of complexity to the process, it is important that you clearly understand what is being communicated to you so you can fairly and successfully resolve the conflict between your colleagues.
- Differentiate points of agreement and disagreement
Sometimes getting this correct could rectify a conflict due to misunderstandings or ambiguous communication. By demonstrating that there is agreement on some points it can diffuse negative feelings and make working on the points of disagreement less difficult. It also allows you to direct the discussions on finding a resolution rather than focusing on the problem.
- Address the items of conflict
Ensure the who, what, when, where, why and how question aspects of the conflict are clearly understood. By using these question words to dissect the reason for the conflict, you and those that are part of the conflict will have a greater appreciation of the element that is actually causing the conflict. E.g. is the conflict due to what was communicated or more how it was communicated.
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- Identify and agree on the items to action and develop a plan
As discussed earlier, a lack of direction can be stressful for many as it may fuel confusion and frustration. By having and communicating a clear plan, the people involved in the conflict will know what is expected of them and by when.
- Arrange follow-up meetings to assess the achievement of action items and review the plan as well as prepare for future progress
We are all different. Not everyone will accomplish what is planned exactly the way it was communicated. Having follow-up meetings will ensure everyone is doing what was agreed and all involved are moving in the same direction i.e. towards a successful resolution of the conflict.
- Acknowledge and congratulate any efforts towards the accomplishment of a resolution
Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective incentives to get the result you want. Remember to acknowledge the efforts of others, especially when they are doing something outside their comfort zone – as is the case with many incidents of conflict.
At the workplace, there will always be difficult situations that require your attention. One of the main ones will be conflict among people. Using this tried and tested process will help you resolve most disagreements at work so you can focus your energy on achieving your goals.
... remember, stay curious and keep learning.
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