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Every employer will have their own methods for handling conflicts in their business.
Conflict management is an overarching term used to handle conflicts with efficiency and fairness. The aim is to minimise any negative consequences which revolve around workplace disputes. That way you can protect employee wellbeing, cohesion, and morale.
If you mismanage conflicts, you could end up losing employees, ruining motivation, and even face tribunal hearings.
In this guide, we'll look at what conflict management is, different solution styles, and how to manage conflicts raised by employees.
Conflict management is when an employer actively handles disagreements in the workplace. Conflict occurs at any given time; and it's normal for employees to raise grievances relating to their work. Here are some of the most common reasons for why workplace conflicts happen:
Conflicts are a natural part of business. That's why it's important for employees to understand the entire process when raising a conflict. Hidden conflict is just as common as those disclosed to you. So, make sure you address every conflict efficiently, with the right attitude and procedure they deserve.
Conflicts can be uncomfortable for the majority of us. Being faced with confrontation, frustration, or lack of coherence can be hard to navigate around.
Popular sociological research has discovered that most people involved in conflicts will either:
From here, a conflict management tactic is formed, as people decipher a mutual and rational approach to problems. There are examples of five conflict management styles:
This conflict management style is used to resolve disagreements by neglecting your own needs for the sake of the other party. An accommodating conflict management style usually values cooperation but lacks assertiveness.
An accommodating style can include:
It might prove beneficial for some workplace conflicts where a 'win-win solution' is met with ease. However, it's not ideal for situations that require more effort to reach a judgement suitable for both parties involved.
This conflict management style is used to bypass or ignore work-related conflicts. An avoidance conflict management style lacks both assertiveness and cooperation.
When you avoid conflict, it's not useful for finding middle ground or reaching a resolution. It leaves other parties feeling undervalued, neglected, and ignored. In some situations, conflicts may escalate for the worse - making resolution even more difficult to reach.
However, sometimes an avoiding management style can be helpful. For example:
This conflict management style is used to acknowledge the opinion and stance of all parties involved. A collaborating conflict management style values the importance of assertion and is highly cooperative.
It's about respecting the process of reaching conflict resolution that benefits everyone. Collaborative conflict management produces the best outcome when parties have a sufficient amount of discussion time. It also works well when both sides have equivocal power to one another. If not, the superior party may take authority which eliminates any form of equality or alliance.
Collaborative conflict management style works best in situations like:
This conflict management style is about initiating, even forcing, your own needs over those around you. A competitive conflict management style heavily evokes an assertive approach and neglects cooperation.
It might be seen as a positive rivalry between disputing parties during work. But it can actually be counterproductive, resulting in 'lose-lose' situations. In fact, this style is opposite to accommodating conflict management.
But a competing style can produce positive outcomes if it's properly managed. Conflict that uses a competitive management style can:
This conflict management style can identify options for resolution that benefits all parties involved. Compromising conflict management styles focus on promoting assertiveness and cooperation.
It allows you to manage conflicts in a way where everyone gets something they need or desire. Compromise styles are used when a problem isn't particularly complex and time-consuming. Or when a solution simply needs to be made rather than actioned perfectly.
However, in some cases, there's always one party who may have got away with a better deal than the other. And compromise styles aren't as open or creative as collaborative conflict management.
It's normal for employees to raise concerns and issues which could affect their performance or capability. Whether the conflict is professional or personal, employers have a duty of care to safeguard their staff's welfare. You're not legally obligated to resolve a conflict fully; but you should take an active effort towards supporting them.
If conflicts remain unresolved, the repercussions could affect everyone within the business - not just the individual. Here are common consequences for bad conflict management:
Remember, we all face bouts of conflict in our everyday life. But we don't let micro-aggressions dictate how our day will pan out. And it's the same in your working environment. By managing conflict through the best means, you'll be able to grow a harmonious, cohesive, and healthy workspace.
We've previously mentioned five suitable ways to reduce conflict. From a collaborative to accommodating style, it's important to action conflict management styles properly.
For example, the avoidance method style works best when managing minor conflict. Or you might only use an assertive approach, as it's the best method for dealing with conflicts raised by new employees. Whatever the case, an active effort towards reaching resolution benefits all parties involved.
Here are steps to consider when managing conflict in the workplace:
Employers need to actively listen to the individual or parties involved. Make them feel heard and acknowledge their situation. You can offer conflict management training to senior employees, line-managers, and HR department representatives.
After this, inform them that a specific course of action will be followed to reach resolution. Remember, a dispute might seem trivial or irrelevant to you, but the same conflict could be impacting a person's life tremendously.
Once the conflict has been disclosed, you need to collect relevant details and accounts. The investigation into the matter must be thorough and fair. This process may prove to be time- consuming, but it's an official step which shouldn't be ignored.
Employers may need to collate evidence, witness accounts, and even initiate discussions. Once you've collected all the information, you'll be able to choose the most suitable conflict management style.
The key to choosing an effective conflict resolution style depends on the conflict itself. When choosing suitable conflict styles, you should think about the following questions:
Once you've answered these questions, you'll be able to determine which management style works best for you.
Whether a conflict relates to other employees or the business itself, you need to set a meeting with the parties involved.
A conflict management meeting should start by outlining your guidelines to the parties sitting. It might seem like an obvious thing; 'don't talk over each other' or 'refrain from personal attacks', etc. But outlining ground rules sets a decorum for the meeting and helps get through conflicts more efficiently.
Allow each party to present their case, without interruption or questioning. They should also try to understand the other person's point or personal values, too. Setting a meeting also helps demonstrate an active approach to resolving conflict. If any of the meeting guidelines are broken, the discussion could cease and resume at a later date.
It's quite common for an individual to get irate, emotional, or angry during meetings. So, avoid solely judging them on vented frustration or angry outbursts. When these feelings happen, people become swept up with the moment. Instead, talk to them calmly so they can eliminate reactions like this from happening again.
Once the meeting has taken place, you need to decide on a final outcome for the conflict. This outcome must be made after considering and evaluating the case on a whole.
You can either disclose the outcome on the same day as the meeting. Or present it at another follow-up discussion. Outline what you have decided and hope the matter has been resolved - outlining 'win-win' solutions for both parties.
If any party is still unsatisfied, you could offer a temporary solution, new ideas, or another conflict resolution meeting. In the end, it's all about moving forward and re-establishing cohesiveness with other members of the team.
Every employer should effectively deal with issues raised by their staff. No matter how big or small, you must have preventative strategies for work conflict.
By doing so, it's a win-win for employers, too. It'll allow you to grow a healthy and happy working environment, which is so important in today's market. However, if you neglect their conflict, you could end up ruining morale, losing employees, and even face tribunal claims.
Health Assured offers expert advice on managing conflict in the workspace. If you have an employee assistance programme with Health Assured, we’re here for you 24 hours a day. Get in touch via the helpline to speak to one of our counsellors or legal and financial specialists.
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