Managing, preventing and resolving conflicts at the work place

Conflicts are inevitable at the work place. They arise naturally as each individual tries to pursue his or her own agenda that may be in conflict with the ideologies and perspectives of others. With today’s emphasis on incorporating diversity in the workplace, more and highly different approaches and perspectives come on board and this presents a perfect mix for conflict under productivity pressures which consequentially results in anger and hostility, passive or aggressive communication, low morale, high turnover and employee lawsuits” (Mazin & Smith, 2004 p.

93).

An unproductive workforce is a costly issue that impacts on the profitability of any company (Groenewald, 2008). It is therefore imperative that the managers arm themselves with effective tools that will help in the management, prevention and resolution to these conflicts, and at the same time, employees be equipped with proper interrelationship skills. While the intricate dynamics of social interaction may not allow for total prevention of conflicts, there are steps and procedures that could be followed to keep conflicts minimal within an organization (Thompson, 2008).

However, it should be noted that not all conflict is bad conflict. Positive conflict can be compared to positive criticism which involves the interchange of ideas leading to creative and innovative products and solutions. This should be encouraged by the workplace environment. Negative conflict occurs when individuals stop focusing on work-related issues and start attacking their colleagues, their personalities and tendencies. This ought to be resolved as quickly as possible before blowing out of manageable proportions (Mazin & Smith, 2004 p. 93).

Common ways in which conflict is dealt with as per Coan includes avoidance, refusal to admit its existence, and playing the blame game, all of which are detrimental responses to conflict.

Thus the management of conflict, a core of effective leadership, can be dealt with in ways discussed below (Coan, 2008). Looking at the likely causes of conflict at the work place it is clear that lack of proper communication or its total absence is among the central causes of conflict. This manifests itself through gossip and backbiting, ill politics, perception of ulterior motives and general miscommunication.

Other causes include the usual personality clash, competing for scarce resources, misuse of power and position to harass, discrimination and unresolved poor performance of an individual within a team (Colorado, 2009). Effective communication is hence a sure way of managing conflicts in a work setting. Since individuals usually have opposing views that are likely to end up in conflicts it is important for an organization to design effective communication channels and procedures in order to prevent conflicts that may arise from breakdown in communication (Thompson, 2008).

These channels may be formally structured or may be informal and solely relying on the competencies of the management staff. The choice of channel is usually dependent on the resources of the organization and its traditions and practices at handling conflicts. However, there are similar strategies employed all over such as the “open door policy” which places the burden on the employee to raise issue with his or her immediate superiors who tackle it and if it is beyond their capacities, the employee then escalates it to the next level of superiors in a hierarchal order till the issue is solved (Mazin & Smith, 2004 p.

94). As well, an organization can put in place policies and procedures that deal with bullying and harassment and ensure that they are strictly adhered to. This step will help in the prevention and management of conflicts that are likely to arise due to misuse of power by top personnel in the organization or any form of discrimination that may take place within the work place (Thompson, 2008). Additionally, the leaders in an organization need to be trained and coached on how to be able to recognize and deal with conflicts positively and constructively as soon as they begin before they grow into major conflicts.

This should be determined as a competency check or part of their career development. It would be prudent to also have such training incorporated into employee seminars and workshops, encouraging them all the while to uphold openness, honesty and trust as core values in their day to day operations within the organization (Thompson, 2008). Conflict resolution, for most part of it, involves mediation of some kind. And it is more preferable when this is done face-to-face since other means of communication such as emails and memos may conceal the true intentions, feelings and spirit of mediation (Colorado, 2009).

The scope of mediators should not be limited to just managers, there should be the employment of independent negotiators, ombudsmen as stated by Mazin & Smith (2004 p. 94), and arbitrators to intercede between or among the aggrieved parties. This implies that organizations can hold facilitated meetings whereby the facilitator watches over the progress of the meeting in a bid to ease any accruing tension such that employees are able to look past their individual differences and concentrate on the group work that the meetings are intended for (Fleischer & Zumeta, 1999).

It is encouraged though not compulsory for such mediation meetings to occur in venues viewed as neutral by both parties. This could simply be a manager’s office or the boardroom. During the proceedings of the meetings, it is necessary to first identify the conflict and ensure that all parties are at par and in agreement as to what the issues are. Secondly, analyze the nature and type of the conflict by asking the parties involved in the conflict helpful questions that will accord all parties an equal and fair chance to safely express their own take on the issues (Allbusiness, 2008).

The above steps will help in determining the expected individualistic resolutions or ends as per the parties and the management strategies to be used in achieving the end results. Thirdly, the mediator then attempts to merge these expectations and realistically set out what can be done within the company’s own goals while considering all case scenarios and trying to strike compromises (Allbusiness, 2008). This should then lead to pre-negotiation which will help to lay down groundwork necessary for effective negotiation.

Pre-negotiation should then be followed by negotiation, putting into consideration the interests, commitment and options for resolving the conflict while encouraging proactive participation by parties involved. Finally, the decisions made during the negotiation should be implemented in the post-negotiation process (Hoban, 2008). The solutions could be achieved by either collaboration amongst the aggrieved parties, compromise, and competition leading to winners and losers or accommodation in which one side unconditionally cedes ground to the other.

Collaboration and compromise are most effective (Hoban, 2008). It should be noted that in all negotiations, the management should be good listeners to their employees. Good listening enables one to give the impression of understanding and caring, and it tends to have a soothing effect in especially emotionally tense situations. Good listening is achieved by simply reflecting what a speaker states in one’s own words (Coan, 2008).

The management or mediator should also remain in control of the boardroom situation and dodge flare ups by avoiding pitfalls such as generalizing issues, hostility in speech and body language, consistent blame and shooting down of people’s remarks with justifying counter-arguments and going beyond the debatable issues. If emotions become overwhelming, a time out is always in order and most advisable (Coan, 2008). As a manager cum mediator, there are certain minefields to be avoided while resolving a conflict.

These include; avoiding a conflict as it only goes underground and literary erupts at future stage, taking a biased position or a perceived biasness by for example separate and clandestine meetings with any of the proponents of the ongoing conflict as this dents one’s credibility and competence, and failing to take up responsibility for actions or causes attributable to oneself or one’s poor policies or decisions (Heathfield, 2009). Conflict resolution roughly takes up about 30% of a manager’s time and can be an expensive affair in terms of energy, human capital and finances.

However, all this can be overcome by heeding the early warning bells set off when disagreements over turf and policies crossover into interpersonal matters. Preventive measures include forwarding issues before they become problems, recognizing triggers and taking necessary measures immediately, placing conflict resolution mechanisms in place that allow employees to express their feelings is an effective way, ensuring employees are aware of the channels that they can follow in case they have a problem at work and giving them the necessary assurance that the concerns they raise will be taken seriously (Heathfield, 2009).

Furthermore, necessary conflict resolution skills training should be part of employees’ betterment programs, office gossip and relationships should be discouraged as well as office spying on behalf of the boss. Managers too should be trained to handle difficult conversations so as to help in resolving conflicts with particular emphasis on informal resolution which provides cheaper means and whenever it is deemed necessary to seek outside help (Allbusiness, 2008).

Bibliography

Allbusiness. 2008. ‘Tips for Dealing with Workplace Conflict’. Viewed March 14, 2009.Available at http://www. allbusiness. com/human-resources/workforce-management-conflict-resolution/12260-1. html Axelrod, L. & Johnson, R. 2005. Turning conflict into profit: a roadmap for resolving disputes. University of Alberta Publishers. p. 42 Brown, J. 2008. Mediation skills. Viewed 12 March 2009. Available at http://209. 85. 129. 132/search? q=cache:tzpSYSaz13gJ:www. ihmscotland. co. uk/ev ents/2008/2008_10_28_mediation_skills_handout. doc+positive+effects+of+confli ct+at+work+positive&cd=6&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ke&client=firefox-a

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