It seems as though the world has never been without conflict – it appears to be one of life’s givens. In fact, almost on a daily basis we read about a conflict going on in some part of the world, one of the most current being the continuing unrest in the Arab World.
As with countries, conflicts often occur in the workplace. Although employees do not necessarily take up arms against one another, their conflict, nevertheless, can create havoc and adversely impact on productivity. However, managers do have the power to prevent the acceleration of employees’ conflict and bring about a positive outcome.
Before we can look at ways to help employees resolve their conflicts, we must first define what we mean by the word conflict. According to Webster’s dictionary, conflict is: a sharp disagreement or collision in interests, ideas, etc.• Thus, from this definition, we can conclude that it is not necessarily the occurrence of conflict that results in a negative aftermath; rather, it is the method used to resolve the conflict. Therefore, helping employees constructively resolve their conflict provides an important challenge for managers.
How do you meet this challenge? Well, here are some pointers for helping your employees resolve their conflict:
- Give them an opportunity to resolve the conflict on their own. Employees need to be given a chance to be successful in solving their own problems and resolving their conflicts. This provides them with learning experiences they can build upon and at the same time enhances their self-esteem.
- Act immediately if they are unable to independently resolve the conflict. You must step in right away if your employees are unable to work out a constructive resolution within a reasonable amount of time. Don’t wait until the conflict accelerates and ends up out of control.
- Listen to both sides of the issue. To understand the nature of the conflict it is important that you listen with an open mind as each employee tells you his or her own story. Your task is to get the facts. However, it is important to recognize that each person will be relating his or her perception of the facts; it is up to you, as manager, to take the information and determine what the real issues are and what actually has occurred.
- Separate the issues from the people conflict. Conflicts come about as a result of differences in opinions, ideas, etc. Therefore, make sure that you are evaluating the issues, not the people. Regard the conflict as the “it” factor operating rather than the “he” or “she” factor operating.
- Stay neutral. It is crucial that you are neutral and take no one’s side; otherwise, you will be viewed as contributing to the problem rather than helping to resolve it.
- Ask each employee to come up with several optional solutions. The goal is to resolve the conflict in a way that will be acceptable to both parties. Therefore, it is important that each one of them work out his or her own options. By doing this, you will be sending a clear message to your employees that you have confidence in their ability to work things out-that you respect and trust them.
- Help them to work out a viable solution. Review the various options that the employees have separately come up with, then assist them in jointly finding a workable solution-one they both can live with.
- Give them feedback. Be sure to give them feedback as to the appropriateness and viability of their solution. Make recommendations and offer guidance where necessary.
- Have them implement their solution. Communicate your confidence in their solution, have them implemented and give you feedback about the results.
What if your employees cannot come to a resolution of the conflict despite all their efforts? Then it becomes necessary for you to devise a solution that each employee can live with and that will not be counter to organizational goals.
The final word: as a manager, you must not tolerate any decrease in productivity, which may, indeed, occur if employees are unable to resolve their conflicts in timely and constructive ways. Therefore it is vital to recognize where you must step in to help your employees help themselves in resolving their conflict.