Managing conflict in the work place can be tricky. We have all seen various levels of conflict in our offices. Sometimes the conflicts are resolved quite quickly, while in other circumstances, the conflict between employees can linger for years. As managers and coworkers, how we approach and deal with the conflict between employees can have a significant impact on the office’s productivity. This article will contain steps and ideas that can be used to identify and resolve conflict between employees. This includes training and strategies related to the causes of conflict, the stages, and the appropriate ways to manage the situations. This information is appropriate for anyone who has dealt with work place conflict whether as a manager, supervisor or coworker.
Types of Conflict
There are several types of conflicts that people commonly encounter at work and with each type of conflict come multiple reasons for it. Generally, work place conflicts will fall into one of three categories; these are disputes over task responsibility, over how something should be done, and issues that are related to personality and work styles. The causes of the conflict can usually be attributed to these reasons: stress, lack of communication, jealousy, complacency, poor management, personality clashes, and/or poor work ethic. With all of these reasons one can see why conflict in the work place is so common. Working through the reasons as to why people get into conflict can help people work towards better understanding of why conflict develops in the work place. Being able to identify the type of conflict and reason for it will be important to helping resolve the conflict quickly and effectively.
Need for Conflict Management
It is important to understand the need for quick and effective management of conflicts in the work place. Persistent conflict at work can have a tremendous effect on the productivity of both the individuals engaged in the conflict as well as the coworkers that interact with them on a daily basis. When an inter-office conflict begins to affect the relationships of the office coworkers many of the following symptoms can occur: decreased trust, teamwork, quality of work, morale, loyalty, self-esteem, and loss of respect for the supervisor in the work place. Once we understand the impact inner-office conflict has on the day-to-day operations of the work place it is easy to become motivated to address this issue rather than allowing it to persist.
Stages of Conflict
Before we can resolve work place conflict we need to understand the emotional state of each employee that is engaged with the conflict. We can do this by identifying which of the stages of conflict the employees are experiencing. Once the stage of conflict is identified, it will be easier to manage the conflict and find a resolution. There are nine stages that each person engaged in the conflict will progress through.
1) The first stage is known as hardening and is where feelings of frustration or irritation first begin to develop.
2) Second is the debates and polemics stage where discussions begin to evolve into arguments.
3) The third stage is known as actions rather than words and is usually where each party will stop talking to each other.
4) The fourth stage is images and coalitions. This stage can be identified as the time when each person reaches out to find other individuals that will support their side by describing the issue to them.
5) Stage five is known as loss of face. Here employees will try to embarrass or discredit the other person to their coworkers in hopes that they will support their actions in the conflict.
6) The sixth stage is strategies of threats where each person in the conflict will attempt to threaten the other person.
7) The seventh stage that follows is known as limited destructive blows. In this stage each party will begin to identify how they will bring down the other coworker involved with the conflict.
8) Stage eight is known as fragmentation.
9) The last stage is known as together into the abyss.
In these final stages the conflict has escalated so far that one’s own personal well being is no longer a concern and their desire to bring down the other person is so great that they give no regard to the pain that they may cause themselves. These steps illustrate how a conflict can escalate out of control if it is not addressed early in the stages of conflict. Understanding the stage of the conflict will allow for better management of the situation.
Once a conflict has initiated and the reasons and stage have been identified, it is time to address the issue and help resolve the conflict. The follow steps will help any manager or coworker mediate the conflict between the employees:
- Air all viewpoints from both sides of the conflict
- Clarify the problem and the interests involved
- Brainstorm solutions with both parties
- Help both sides reach agreements
- Be aware of your own bias and do not let it affect your ability to remain impartial
The most important point to remember with these steps is to be an active listener. Active listening can serve two points. First it is a great way to make sure you understand what is being said from both parties. Second it projects to the employees that you are both interested and concerned about their issue. Both of these points to being an active listener will be helpful to resolve the issues from both sides of the conflict.
Conflicts can have a significant impact in the work place and should not be ignored. It is imperative for managers, supervisors, and even coworkers to engage individuals that are causing inner-office conflicts. A few points to keep in mind are to be aware of conflict stages and then respond to them when they are noticed, put in place a process for resolving conflicts and get agreement on it, and encourage everyone to learn conflict-resolution skills. Additionally training on conflict management and mitigation are recommended for anyone that would like to decrease conflict in their place of work. However, I have found that to be a good mediator and manger of conflict takes both practice and a desire to help employees resolve problems.
Gahr, Richard & Mosca, Joseph. (1995). Conflict resolution and mediation. Leadership and Organization Development Journal. v16n8, p. 37-39
California, U. o. (n.d.). www.hrweb.berkeley.edu/guide/conflict.htm.
Male, B. (1995). Managing Human Behavior in Public and Non Profit Organizations. US Department of Energy.
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