Conflict is an inevitable part of human nature, and often rears its ugly head at the most inopportune times. When conflict enters the workplace, it is important to address it in a timely manner and without bias, no matter how tempting it is to side with one side or the other.
Traditionally, conflict management has taken one of 5 major strategies, including attempting to accommodate both sides of the argument, encouraging collaboration to develop team spirit, or allowing strong personalities to remain in friendly and professional competition with each other. Some more passive personalities or timid managers may attempt to avoid the problem altogether, hoping that it will resolve itself. Ideally, a compromise should be sought that maintains positive relationships between employees and upholds the organization’s ideals. While these methods have worked in the past, sometimes conflict management specialists need to seek new and engaging strategies.
Many times, difficulties communicating can stem from individual differences in communication styles due to cultural or generational gaps. Having the parties involved list both their own perspective and what they believe the other person to be experiencing can provide evidence of communication gaps. Sometimes employees are working towards the same goals and simply have trouble adequately expressing themselves to their team. Encouraging employees to find their best communication methods, whether verbal or written, can resolve and prevent a majority of conflicts.
When conflict goes beyond difficulties communicating and into heated arguments, creative methods are needed to prevent outright warfare. One interesting fact to keep in mind is the relationship between blood sugar levels and our attitudes and moods. As juvenile as it may sound, sometimes sitting down and engaging in traditional conflict management strategies over tea may lead to a quick resolution of the conflict.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, both parties may need time to cool down before productive discussion can take place. Creating a quiet, calm area in the office for people to sit and contemplate their own solutions to the problem may be all that is needed. Approaching the problem with a clear head allows both parties to communicate more effectively.
Occassionally conflicts occur between multiple staff members, or between employees and management. In these cases, providing a method for anonymous complaints and suggestions may go a long ways toward preventing the escalation of negative feelings. Widespread unrest over policies can be quickly quenched by allowing a democratic and anonymous vote over potential changes.
When conflict has pervaded the entire work team, oftentimes the best solution involves dedicating a day to team building exercises. Many companies are finding success by organizing and participating in paintball tournaments. These mock battles require employees to engage in teamwork and rapid decision making in the heat of battle while providing an outlet for pent up frustrations in a safe environment. By sharing a fun experience together, employees may find it easier to see each other as allies.
Engaging in off-the-wall conflict techniques may go against the instinct of old-fashioned managers, but when traditional methods are mixed with innovative adaptations, workplace conflict will soon be a distant memory.
Head of Training and Development