Minimising conflict in the workplace

55The workplace can be a very emotional place. When there are competitive, professional, driven people, all focused on being noticed, performing well, achieving, and effectively competing with one another for results and attention, there are bound to be animosities and incidents between co-workers.

Add to the mix that some managers seem to feel that “management by conflict” i.e. pitting colleagues against each other, is the way to get the best performance from their team , and it’s no wonder that relations at work are not always happy and trouble free.

Then we need to consider different characters, those who have a need to lead and those who prefer to follow, people who respond differently in situations of stress.

So an effective manager needs to be able to see, discuss and resolve difficult interactions in the workplace. These may be between employees, colleagues, managers and employees, or customers and suppliers.

The effective manager needs tools and techniques to help them notice conflicts developing, decide which situations are worth resolving, determine the source of a problem, discuss the emotions that difficult interactions can raise, seek and implement a resolution, and overcome potential barriers to action to resolve conflict.

Managers are often confronted with inappropriate and challenging behaviour, which demands a response from them. We will define inappropriate behaviour and develop skills to enable the manager to respond in a way which reduces the risk of further conflict.

Steps an employer can take

There are some steps an employer can take to ensure disputes and conflicts are minimised, and to enable them to be dealt with when they do. They include;-

Training managers to handle difficult conversations with employees

Having clear discipline, grievance and dispute procedures in place for dealing with conflict.

Having an employment manual in place, available to everyone, clearly laying down rights and responsibilities.

Recognise and encourage the importance of feelings, and open expression of opinions.

Listen to what people have to say.

Effective communication

Managers also need to appreciate the importance that effective communication plays in maintaining good interpersonal relationships. The ability to communicate effectively can be a key skill in advancing a career.

Interacting well with colleagues and managers will enable you to make good decisions, solve problems and achieve company targets. In today’s world an effective manger is expected to anticipate and solve problems, and avoid, rather than react, to conflict in the workplace.

So skills that will enable you to minimise conflict, foster a positive atmosphere, and facilitate teamwork will make a valuable contribution to the business, as well as producing a better work experience for everyone. Employees are more effective if their interactions with colleagues and managers are conflict free, productive and team oriented, producing a pleasant work atmosphere where everyone is treated with respect.

Interpersonal skills – How to make sure you fit in without causing conflict

Good manners and politeness are really all you need here. People will respond better if they are treated with respect.

Be aware of the impact you are having on others. Deliver your message appropriately –that is, have regard to how you ask for things, or issue instructions.

Phrase requests politely. Put yourself in their place when you ask or suggest something “how would I feel I was asked to do that?”

Use “please” and “thank you “as a matter of course when you are asking for things to be done.

Be aware of your body language. Use open posture, smile, and make eye contact. Avoid closed body language (such as crossed arms) and other negative body language.

Be aware of the body language of people you are speaking to, to ensure that you are interacting with them, rather than issuing orders. What can you tell about their attitude from their demeanour?

Avoid using confrontational, offensive or derogatory language

Be extremely careful of what you put in writing. Once issued in a memo, or email, it can’t be unsaid. Keep written material professional at all times.

Listen and respond to ideas put forward to you

Try to promote a spirit of cooperation, and teamwork rather than of destructive competition. Competitive instincts need to be channelled into positive results for the team, rather than an individual winner emerging to the detriment of others and the team.

If you do detect a conflict, take action to resolve it before it escalates. Sometimes just acknowledging and discussing a potential problem can defuse it.

Interact appropriately at different levels

Depending on the culture of your workplace, it may be deemed appropriate to address managers as Mr or Mrs, and accept orders without discussion. In other cultures, everyone may be on first name terms and it may be usual to interact and offer suggestions to management about improving practices. It is important to “read” the culture and interact appropriately.

Today’s workplaces vary enormously and the culture will reflect the type of company and its management, activities and staff. Personnel can be given guidance at induction to avoid misunderstanding.

For example you may work in a traditional manufacturing environment, where an old fashioned hierarchical culture is likely to prevail. A knowledge based internet business, perhaps, will have a more modern, less hierarchical culture, respecting knowledge rather than seniority. The culture in a fast moving sales environment will differ from that of a Barristers Chambers or Doctors Surgery.

So consider the environment you are operating in, and remember that the most effective way to avoid conflict is for everyone to respect one another and to communicate effectively, by both listening and delivering messages effectively.

Use Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence has an impact on your behaviour and the way you interact with colleagues, family and friends. It is the ability to identify and manage emotions, your own and others, in positive ways. This enables effective communication and facilitates empathy with others. People who have high emotional intelligence use their understanding of emotions to relate better to other people.

So Emotional intelligence can help to overcome challenges, anticipate and defuse conflict, form healthy relationships, achieve business success and lead a more fulfilling life.
Here are some emotional intelligence tips that may be helpful for dealing with difficult people in your workplace;-

  • It is difficult to control other people’s behaviour, so instead change your behaviour in relation to them. Find the most productive means of interaction.
  • Listen actively and with empathy to gain understanding of their viewpoint.
  • Try to understand, acknowledge and sympathise with the other’s feelings.
  • Be aware of each other’s perceptions, look for opportunities to challenge and alter those perceptions for the better.
  • Seek common ground, reconcile interests. Focus on the other person’s needs desires and concerns. Work toward resolution.
  • Focus on the problem, not the person, and try to understand what the actual problem is. Then seek ways to resolve it.
  • Don’t make assumptions about others behaviour, or reasons for it. Open and maintain a dialogue.
    Be polite and respectful. Control your temper and your reactions.
  • Identify both of your needs.
  • Use “I” statements and be clear about points of agreement.
  • Use appropriate body language to show support and attention.
  • Ask powerful problem-solving questions.
  • Be polite and civil

If someone is making life difficult for you, try to be friendly but distant, and not to rise to the bait in the heat of the moment. This may only encourage their behaviour to deteriorate. But it may be that if you don’t give them the emotional reaction they’re seeking, they’ll decide it’s a waste of time trying to get a rise out of you and leave you alone.

Sometimes people are jealous of your ability and that’s why they react badly to you. If you can let them know you don’t intend to challenge them they may feel motivated to treat you better. Try to strike up a casual conversation, about a non-confrontational topic.