Wednesday, 03 December 2008

The basics of conflict management

Conflict in the workplace is almost inevitable. Whenever you put a bunch of people together and put them under pressure there is likely to be conflict.

Colleagues working in a team may disagree about how a specific job should be done. Each has his or her own ideas and their pride won't allow either to make a concession. Conflict can arise where a dominant employee does not give others a chance to contribute to discussions. Conflict may arise between a department and the finance committee when the department is forced to cut the budget. Conflict may arise over political issues the distribution of power and promotions.

Conflict management is very important in ensuring a productive and effective workplace. The methods used to manage conflict may vary depending on the type of conflict that has arisen.

The history of the world has shown that problems are rarely solved though war. As a rule, both sides lose. The same principal may apply in the workplace. Where conflict arises in meetings or between team players over the way forward good facilitation skills are required.

The first step in most situations is to hear both sides out. Good call-centre consultants know this. An irate customer can be calmed quite effectively by listening to what he or she has to say and asking probing questions. The workplace is no different. Listen to what each party has to say. Do not allow interruptions. Ask probing questions. Often this will be enough to calm the situation and enable work to go on. At other times it may be necessary to assist the parties to find a compromise solution or you may have to take a decision.

Violence should never be tolerated at the workplace. Violence is more likely to occur when alcohol has played a part. Violence at work should not be tolerated at all. Even the most minor use of violence must be taken seriously and disciplinary action must follow.

Conflict over a promotion is a problem that cannot be solved that easily. Joe believes that he should have had the Mary's promotion. He is resentful and uncooperative. Again the best treatment may be to hear him out. Allow him to vent his frustration and air his views. While you do not have to justify a promotion decision, you have the option of explaining the reasons behind the decision. Secrecy helps to foster an atmosphere of mistrust and can increase the conflict. An open discussion as to why Joe missed out on the promotion may resolve the situation.

Winston Churchill's famous quote that "it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war" applies equally to the workplace. Most situations can be resolved by talking. Listening skills are required combined with the ability to probe.

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