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Editorial Team
22 May 2018

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Workplace Conflict Management: Learning Team Synergy

When it’s a tug of war, a vantage point is a good reference for negotiation possibilities

Agreement, disagreement, and negotiation are three dimensions of workplace correspondence. The fourth dimension of workplace correspondence management is ‘conflict’ which is rather a controversy’s child. The gravity of the situation is apparent by a Paychex survey stating 70% time of HR professionals is expended in handling workplace disputes and conflicts.  

Another survey by LegalZoom called Workplace Insight Report for Businesses 2018 reveals:  

  • 26% employees consent to their employers being adept at adequately handling workplace conflicts  

  • 15% employees reportedly quit jobs owing to workplace conflicts 

  • 16% avoid bringing matters of conflict to senior management due to a phobia of backlash from other employees or the management team 

  • 33% speak to colleagues about conflicts, 16% report about problems, and 9% complain through social media. 

  • 38% say guidelines about conflict management are circulated only annually and 16% say only verbal discussions happen even in large corporations.  

[Conventional Wisdom + Convenience] VS [Conflicts] 

Conventional wisdom often falters as a conflict resolution method. If done, it becomes a case of fitting a shape-shifting problem in a tight wardrobe piece. Often, conflicts are ignored. But, this negligence of conflicts is the biggest human resources faux pas. Not all conflicts are meant the same and it’s unwise to estimate their solutions falling in the same patterns. It’s good to expect a certain degree of uncertainty in actual reasons of conflicts.    

No matter the unpalatability of conflicts, if you plan to draw conclusions from rigidly defined guidelines, it limits your skill-repertoire as managers. Alternately, conflict management skills must be built on the foundations of own individuality in solving conflicts and sublimity of problems.          

Conflicts, generally, get painted in controversial colors when they are embroiled in major legal proceedings talked about in corporate circles around the world. Convenience is an easy honey trap, and managers, schooled inconvenience, shush conflicts and push them under the carpet.  

Nominally, at least, every corporate organization has paid lip service to the principle of conflict management. Skipping the smokescreen, team synergy is fundamental to employee morale, employee retention, and productivity- and conflicts derail these benefits. Why don’t HR professionals care about not to let minor conflicts scale the walls of brouhaha? Perhaps it is because of their insensitivity in handling such issues. But one reason has to distinctly be how they don’t know enough. 

Resolving Workplace Conflict:   

Continuously tested over the organizational landscape, check this list for avoiding/resolving workplace conflicts: 

Differentiate: Joseph F. ByrnesManagement Professor, Bentley College, Waltham has a piece of advice. He asks to give warring factions a chance to resolve their issues at first. Resolving conflicts must be answers to the question- when to step in and become a referee? If things go out of hand and start affecting the work atmosphere and the work of other people, then is the time to take action. Conflicts arising out of interpersonal reasons are better left to them to avoid appearing nosey. Structural conflicts can be worked on by human resources professionals.  

Never get embroiled in office politics: It results in the alienation of one group or worse offending them. It risks and puts the credibility of managers on fire. The problem at hand is to be solved and not be sidetracked by any political or personal issue. This will cause utter chaos and irreparable barriers.  

Refrain from profiling employees: The most difficult détente to achieve is resolving conflicts between people who come as difficult and negative. It’s easy to profile candidates as problem employees or easy-going employees based on their personal attitude. ‘Problem employees’ are overlooked. But that could be lighting the end of a rope leading to a potentially explosive situation. These kinds of employees turn out to be the plaintiffs who go and file lawsuits in future. Even when you know these candidates come as difficult ones, don’t give them an explicit benefit of doubt that you aren’t helping them because you think they are difficult to deal with.     

Negotiate: Jeffrey Krivis’ book Improvisational Negotiation lays down some conflict management principles very handy for modern workplaces. As managers, people must be allowed to speak their minds. It’s never easy but crossing the conflict stage is essential to arrive at the solution phase. Avoid falling into a pitfall of minutiae and look for the real motivating factors in a conflict.  

Discipline: Human behavior is complex and gray. There is nothing as perfect black and perfect white. Blanket policies aren’t suited to cover an entire range of complex human personalities. The first warning must actually be the first warning rather than a progression of many such ‘first warnings’. 

Win over the Myths: Conflicts are mostly held in the misconception of negativity. Let’s take the misconceptions out of the picture. Difficult people belonging to counterculture aren’t always the reason for all the conflicts and it’s not very easy looking beneath the surface obscurity to find the transparency of source problem. There is no utter need for a clear winner and loser. When people are grey so can be the judgments.   

Chasms to avoid falling into: Conflicts could be a result of managers’ own doing. The sarcasm you reek of and your stance towards submissive employees says it all. Even subtlety could be smelled by employees. A portfolio showing excellence in management isn’t a license to belittle others and be condescending. 

Understand the cues: Check for employees’ reaction such as stoicism, emotional outbursts, hysteria, anger, and submissiveness to respond accordingly. Gather important data gaining on the interpretation of facial expressions, body language, and voice tonality.          

The Method in Madness:   

Acknowledgment of conflict: The best introduction to any conflict is an acceptance that it exists. Only then, the next steps can be built on it. We are not trying to pass judgments on the right and the wrong here but to find solutions feasible for everyone.   

Finding common grounds: Meet up and find a middle ground for an agreement on problems and the procedures to be followed.    

Finding solutions: For both parties to buy actions decided upon, work around problem-solving methods. Check for passive resistance and get everyone to agree on terms.   

Following up: Let’s say one fortnight might be enough time to bring about any improvisation and negotiation of employee behavior. Meet up again to see whether the ride has been smooth or not. 

In case of unresolved conflicts: Decide the extremes of unresolved conflicts. They can be anything from an oral warning, written warning, suspension without pay, reduction of pay, demotion, and in case of no heed- dismissal.       

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