Conflict in the work place is something we encounter daily and in our personal lives. Whilst some are able to handle conflicts in a healthy way, others like me are terrible at handling conflicts. Coaching has exposed me to techniques which would have helped me to manage conflicts in a better way. I dealt with conflicts through avoidance and if pushed to the wall would fight back so badly that it left bad taste in my mouth and that of the other person to the conflict. Understanding the source of conflict and the engagements rules required to manage them which I will be sharing shortly should help in the conflict resolution which will promote better understanding between the parties involved in the conflict.
Unresolved office conflicts have implications for our mental health. Conflicts generate negative emotions which impacts our mental health negatively, and in turn drive our behaviours towards others if left unresolved. The impact is that people fall sick and take paid medical leave, toxic work environment, delayed projects and missed team goals, all leading to low productivity. Therefore, it is imperative that the sources of conflicts are identified and resolved promptly for healthy workforce and work environment.
Human response to conflict can be traced to human evolution regarding how humans respond when threatened. Call it the survival instinct! There is neuroscience behind it which is not the subject of this article. When human beings are threatened, they fight, flee or freeze. The natural instinct is to fight back if we believe we stand a chance of defeating the opponent, when we feel we cannot defeat the opponent, we flee and when we are overwhelmed, we freeze. The same is applicable when we face conflicts.
Common sources of conflict include:
Unclear roles and responsibilities
Unclear roles and responsibilities could lead to the duplication of each other’s work, thus leading to conflicts. Such situations could lead to the parties to the conflict feeling their work is not good enough, getting involved in unhealthy rivalry and could feel their job is threatened. It could also result to waste of man hour and low productivity. Clarity of roles and responsibilities is important in work place to avoid conflicts.
Misunderstanding and miscommunication
Most conflicts originate from misunderstanding of the other person’s position or intentions. Speculating about other people’s intentions without seeking clarification and understanding, could lead to conflicts. In some cases, we react negatively before realising the other person has good intentions towards us which in some cases might be too late by the time we realise it, as such reaction would have led to conflicts.
Our egos sometimes get in our way of understanding the other person. When we feel superior to the other person, the response is usually to prove to the other person that we are not inferior as no one likes to be treated with disdain. Showing respect is important to avoiding conflicts. The bigger the egos, the bigger the conflict as no one person will like to listen to the other person.
Undermining other people
Taking actions that will bring other people down will lead to conflict as human beings by their nature don’t want to be undermined. Discrimination of any form is always a source of conflict. Undermining people could lead to low morale and unhappiness in the work place. Personnel policies should be put in place to ensure no one is discriminated against in the work place.
Competing for limited positions
As people climb the corporate ladder, positions become fewer and so many people start competing for limited higher positions leading to unhealthy competition. People begin to display various tactics to prove they are better than the other person. Clarity of the requirement for the next role which is published and transparent could help manage this conflict.
Claiming credit for other peoples’ effort
It is a common place in the work place for people to claim credit for other people’s work in an attempt to gain the recognition they do not deserve. This could lead to lack of co-operations amongst individuals and teams leading to conflict. Clarity of roles and responsibilities and recognition of individual’s and team’s contribution could help manage this conflict.
Nature and nature have influence on the way our values are shaped. Since the office environment comprises of people of different background and upbringing, our values are likely to be different and our inability to understand and appreciate other peoples’ values could lead to office conflicts. To avoid such conflicts, most organisations have corporate values which every employee is made to sign.
Good personnel policies could help manage some of these sources of conflicts, but more importantly is the ability of the individuals involved in conflicts to manage them. Some of the ways to manage office conflicts where they cannot be avoided include:
- Identify the source of the conflict
To effectively manage a conflict, the source of the conflict and the negative emotions it generates must be understood. If the origin of the negative emotions is unknown, it could be difficult to address them. Therefore, the first step is identifying the source of the conflict. What we don’t know we cannot manage. A problem identified is a problem half solved.
- Engage with the other person
Engaging with the other person involved in the conflict is crucial as it will help understand the reason for the conflict and identify its source. In my case, I avoided such individuals which did not make the problem go away. Avoiding the individual(s) involved will not solve the problem. During the engagement, it is important to be present and attentive as it shows that the other person’s time is valued and respected.
- Listen more and talk less
To understand the other party’s grievances, it is important to listen more and talk less. Allowing them to air their views will give insight to where they are coming from which will make them participate actively in the conversation. Proper engagement will lead to resolution of the conflict.
- Seek clarification
Seeking clarification is essential in establishing a common understanding. In engaging with the other person, ensure that you understand their position and not assume you know what they are trying to say. Avoid completing the other person’s statement. How many times have we assumed we understand the other people’s positions without engaging with them which turned out to be wrong? It is important to summarize the other party’s position to avoid misinterpretation. Summarise your understanding of the situation and obtain the other person’s confirmation. Where you don’t understand the issue or what has been said, confess that you do not understand and seek clarification or explanation.
- Find a common ground
Exploring a common ground is valuable in resolving conflicts. In any position taken by the other party, there must be an element of truth which could form the foundation for further engagement. According to Shirzard Chamine the author of the book Positive Intelligence, in any position taken by the other person, there must be an element of truth which should be explored. That part of the truth can be as little as 10% of what has been said which should form the foundation for further engagement.
- Play the “Yes and Game”
The “Yes and Game” can be useful once the 10% of the other’s position that is right has been identified. Acknowledge that aspect and build on it to make the other person feel heard by saying “What I love about your position is ….. and build on it. Avoid using words like “I disagree with you” or “I hear you but,” which can make the other person feel unheard and become defensive.
- Summarise the outcome of the engagement
After the engagement, summarize the outcome to ensure clarity and understanding of both parties. Use simple language that both parties understand to avoid ambiguity.
- Show appreciation
Show appreciation and thank the other party for participating in the process. Share learnings from the engagement and how it will improve future interactions to prevent similar conflicts in future. Request regular feedback and if necessary, schedule follow-up meetings to resolve conflicts.