Conflict Resolution – How to manage difficult situations in the workplace

Hasan SadikMediation

conflict resolution

It is somewhat inevitable that conflict at some level will be part of your work life. Different goals, a clash of needs, differing points of view and a variety of personalities will occur and will lead to conflict, which can be seriously damaging if not handled effectively. There are any number of scenarios and reasons why conflict may occur. This post is not about why it happened but how to resolve it. So, if you manage a team where conflict exists, what should you do to stop a problem spiralling into an even bigger issue?

Interest-Based Relational (IBR)

One method of conflict resolution developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury, is the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) approach.They believe that you should resolve conflicts by separating people and feelings from the issue at hand. Their approach is focussed on building mutual respect and understanding, thereby encouraging resolution in a united, cooperative way. This conciliatory approach is something that we encourage. By separating people and their emotions from the problem it opens possibilities for finding a way to make team members work effectively again.

Six Steps to Successful Conflict Resolution

Step 1: Make Sure Good Relationships Are a Priority

As a manager or supervisor, you must make maintaining good relationships with your team your priority. In any conflict situation taking control early is also key. Ensure that everyone involved understands that it’s essential for people to be able to work together happily, effectively and without resentment, so that the business can function effectively. Explain that the conflict must be resolved through respectful discussion and negotiation, rather than aggression.

Step 2: Separate People From Problems

Remind team members that conflict is rarely one-sided but even if it is, you’ll need to work collaboratively to move past it. Explain that the resolution will be separate the problem from the personalities involved.

Step 3: Listen Carefully

Keep channels of communication open, so that you are abreast of every facet of the dispute. Ask for each person’s viewpoint, reminding them that you need his or her cooperation to solve the problem. Make sure you understand each party’s underlying interests, needs and concerns but always maintain a positive outlook. Display positive characteristics that you would like to encourage in others, by setting a good example.

Ask your team members to make an effort to understand one another’s motivations and goals, and to think about how those may affect their actions. Getting people to listen to other people’s points of view without defending their own, can be very difficult. Encourage active listening skills such as looking directly at the speaker, nodding to acknowledge, and allowing each person to finish before talking. This helps individuals feel their position and views are being understood and encourages people to be more receptive to different perspectives.

Step 4: Listen First, Talk Second

Keeping conversations neutral and affable may be one of the biggest challenges of conflict resolution. Request that each person has finished talking before someone else speaks, emphasising the importance of listening first to make sure they have a full understanding of the view and issue. Resolution through discussion and negotiation, will undoubtedly lead to many questions and requests for further clarity. Deal with these calmly and methodically.

Make sure that all discussions are focussed on work issues and encourage participants to:

  • Listen with empathy.
  • Explain issues clearly and concisely.
  • Encourage people to use “I” rather than “you” statements, so that no one feels attacked.
  • Be clear about their feelings.
  • Remain flexible and adaptable.

Step 5: Establish Facts

It sounds both obvious and simple but different underlying needs, interests and goals can skew perceptions and influence judgement. It is essential that the actual problem is agreed upon before you try to solve it.

Step 6: Explore Options Together

By this stage, each side will likely understand the other’s position better, and the most appropriate solution might be obvious. If not, stay focussed on the issue and finding a way to move past it. Make sure discussions are constructive and good relationships are made a priority by reminding all participants to be mutually respectful and courteous in finding an agreeable outcome.

However, if you have uncovered some serious differences and a resolution cannot be found, the intervention of a third party mediator might be your next step.

Lesser Known Benefits

The process of conflict resolution in the workplace is tough but there can be some less obvious benefits to finding an agreeable outcome. The whole process of resolving conflict expands people’s awareness.

The introspective side of conflict resolution pushes individuals to think about how they can achieve their goals without undermining others. It can help people understand more about themselves (like their priorities) which helps to re-focus their intent and enhance their effectiveness.

External awareness also improves group cohesion. Stronger mutual respect and a renewed faith in their ability to work together can have a considerable impact on a team’s ability to work together effectively and efficiently. Making for a more harmonious and hopefully more productive workforce.