Five Steps to Manage & Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

November 2, 2010 By: Pamela - No Comments

As published by the STAITS TIMES, RECRUIT, February 2010

Conflict is no stranger to any of us. We experience it in our daily lives – with our families, friends and increasingly in our professional lives. Conflict in the workplace causes many of us a great degree of discomfort, anger, frustration, sadness, and even pain.  It is a normal aspect of life.

Today we live in a flat world as one big global village.  There is an increase in work force diversity where organizations have teams of employees from different geographic locations, with diverse cultural and cognitive backgrounds and various outlooks. In the workplace where individuals have different perspectives toward the same issues, sooner or later there are bound to be disagreements.

Conflict can happen when different views or opinions come to light. When conflict occurs the idea is not to try to prevent disagreements, rather to resolve and manage conflicts effectively. When individuals or teams are able to use appropriate resolution tools to address an issue, they are able keep their differences from escalating into problems. If the issues can be viewed constructively as nothing more that different points of views, it sets the stage for a positive outcomes.

Establishing some type of conflict management process within an organization is far better than allowing avoidance, denial, passive-aggressive indirectness, or plotting how to get even to take place amongst the employees. In the conflict resolution process, both individuals and teams are able to explore and understand their differences and use the information to interact in a more positive and productive manner.

Below are five basic steps to follow in resolving a conflict.

1. Identify a safe place and time to talk.
In order to allow for a constructive conversation, individuals generally need to feel that they are in a ‘safe place’ – one that allows 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.

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.
It is important that each party involved in the conflict has 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 pertaining to the conflict at hand.  Identify issues clearly and concisely and remove the emotion from the situation.

It is important that each person recognize that everyone needs to be involved to be 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 force our ideas onto others and instead make a concerted effort to listen to what is being conveyed.

By advocating empathy, team members are able to 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 into 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 process that aims to accommodate all parties and arises out of sense of fairness. Explore and be creative in searching for alternatives

Begin by taking one concern 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. 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 use for evaluating options. This ensures everyone is on the same page and, with mutually acceptable criteria, good solutions to problems become easier to formulate.

5. Develop an agreement that works for all.
At the conclusion of the negotiation process and the team has reached an agreement regarding solutions to each of the problems, 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.
As the conversation comes to a close, leave the session with a commitment to implement the plans that you have just created.

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 resolutions skills and face the issue head on before it escalates into a conflict requiring intervention.