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Managing conflict in the workplace

July 8, 2016

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With an array of different personality types filling office desks around Australia, it is only natural that from time to time workplaces experience conflict. As a business owner or manager however, it is your role to manage conflict within the workplace to minimise disruption and promote a ‘healthy and safe’ work environment.

Tips and tricks for resolving conflict

Effective communication

When you are faced with a scenario involving conflict between your employees the key to resolving conflict is definitely clear communication. When first raising the issue with team members, a face to face conversation needs to be your first priority. If you are relying on evidence of certain behaviour, you need to have key examples – do you have documentary evidence, emails between colleagues or a witness statement? You need to ensure that you are listening as well as speaking, have you given your employee a chance to explain how the situation made them feel? Try and differentiate between what is fact, and what is fiction.

Before having the conversation with an employee, ask yourself;

  • What do I know (the facts)?
  • What do I want to know?
  • What do I want to happen (managing expectations or standards)?
  • What will the successful outcome look like?
  • What risks do I need to factor in and how can I manage them?

Managing a complaint

We all understand that sometimes when you receive a complaint, sorting the complaint or conflict between staff can fall to the bottom of your priority list. So if you receive a complaint, how should you respond to follow a best practice model?

  • You need to respond promptly.
  • Treat all matters seriously. While something might seem quite minor or comical to you, to someone else it is in the forefront of their mind.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Only the people who need to know about what has happened and management’s response should be kept informed.
  • Ensure procedural fairness. Each person needs to know that their version of events is being given a fair hearing.
  • Be neutral. It’s important not to take sides. Don’t apportion blame.
  • Support all parties – both parties need to know that they have support, e.g. do you provide an employee assistance program? Interviewees should be offered to bring a support person to attend interviews.

Crucial conversations

Conversations dealing with conflict in the workplace are a type of what we call ‘crucial conversations.’ Why are they crucial? Stakes are high, emotions are strong and opinions vary.

When having the crucial conversation, you need to ensure a ‘safe zone’. So how do we know when we have a ‘safe zone’? A safe zone comprises two things:-

  • Mutual purpose: where both parties believe they are working towards a common goal in the conversation, and that both parties care about the goals, interests and values.
  • Mutual respect: Where both parties respect each other. Where mutual respect exists, we tend to actively listen to each other and acknowledge feelings, perspectives and differences without judgment.

Employees are often encouraged to sort out their ‘differences’ themselves without involving management. But have you equipped your employees with the right communication tools to take part in a crucial conversation? People come from different backgrounds, with different values, and different ideas of what is right and wrong.

To ensure employees are responding effectively, a simple 3 step process should be followed:

  • Stop – is it appropriate to react/respond immediately?
  • Look and Listen – am I in fight or flight mode? Do I have to approach this situation alone?
  • Proceed – Should I remove myself from the situation? Should I provide immediate feedback? Do I need to ask for help?

Equipping your employees with the right tools to respond to and manage conflict is half the battle in managing conflict in the workplace.

For more information on conflict management, clients should contact the HR Assured team. If you’d like more information about the benefits of becoming an HR Assured client contact us today for an informal chat.