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London, North | david.feldman@sandler.com

It could be said that embracing conflict in the workplace can be the fastest route to resolution. 

It’s easy to think that as the days have become lighter and the winter blues have worn off that Summer would be one of the happiest seasons in the workplace. Unfortunately not. As people bed in to roles and the dynamics between teams change, it becomes a  time for a spate of unhappy workers and conflict amongst teams.

There are many other factors contributing to this. Team changes, differing personalities and not to mention an uncertain economy will all impact upon the mood in the office. But conflict needn’t be construed as negative. Often, conflict can be a healthy outlet for expressing different opinions and a way for a business to harness diversity. The trick is how you act upon it.

Create a safe environment

The role of the manager is to foster an atmosphere whereby people feel safe and able to express their true opinions with out any game playing. When internal politics start taking over, managers must recognise this and then act upon it straight away.

It’s imperative that the manager adopt a level of responsibility and adopt the role of a mediator for any conflicts that arise, in order to facilitate “win win” situations for all parties involved

Don’t ignore conflict

Whether we are at work or at home we are all human. Therefore conflict among members of any group is inevitable as people will have conflicting personalities and views. Conflict often arises among the individuals of the team because they have values, behaviours, and goals that may conflict with someone else’s. Understanding the source is the first step to resolution. Avoiding conflict instead of managing it will contaminate the team’s functioning.

So in order to limit the damage to the business it’s important to identify the conflict early and provide an immediate resolution process. Assuming that the manager isn’t personally involved in the conflict, they should be able the process of resolution.

Techniques for approaching resolution

When looking at the process for resolution, the best approach is to bring the parties together and make them aware of the need for resolution. If the root of the problem is minor, quick attention should ensure that it stays minor.

Often talking it through can put issues into perspective. But if the issue is more serious then it may be wise to talk to them individually first to ascertain their needs, fears, problems, issues, and so on – anything that may contribute to the conflict, even indirectly. By using third party stories as illustrations it can avoid matters becoming personal criticisms which are rarely acceptable.

Once all the background has been established for a serious conflict then airing issues together in an open forum is still the best route to resolution. Have each party create diagrams that list the various elements that are contributing to the conflict and create a diagram to display them – these should be prioritised so that participants can identify the most mutually acceptable position by plotting on the diagram a “best fit” line – whereby the solution identified will do the least harm and most good, for the most people.

Conflicts can always have positive outcomes and are a part of human behaviour. Your role as a manager is to ensure the identification and mediation process is kept as transparent and non judgemental as possible. Conflicts happen and resolution does too, so there is no need to hide away from facing them head on, every time.

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