One of the most popular sections of our management open courses is the discussion on managing conflict in the workplace. Everyone, it seems, has to cope with situations where factions, differences of opinion, or worse, occur between two or more people.
Our trainers often ask what proactive measures managers put into place to avoid conflict happening in the first place, and very often they’re met with glazed expressions and silence.
Many managers feel this is something that can only be dealt with after it occurs. After all, why would you put something into place to deal with events that aren’t happening?
But putting measures into place that can avoid conflict in the first place is not only sound practice, but relationship-building as well.
Let’s look at some ideas that will help you avoid conflict in the workplace:
• Keep your team involved and informed. Keeping information back can cause rumour and worry, the first stages of possible conflict. Misinterpretation of situations can result in accusations, blame and personal attacks. Keep the communication lines open to avoid this
• Resist becoming involved in conflict-generating games that people play. Think before judging others in public. Don’t make personal attacks on people behind their backs. Your example will be looked upon by others as something to follow, and it may cause conflict to be raised when there shouldn’t have been any
• Be cautious with any criticism you offer. Check before you over-react to situations and fact-find before making any decisions. Did you mishear or misunderstand? Check it out first
• Support staff rather than criticise them. The way you deal with potentially conflict-building situations could determine whether they cool down or heat up
• Tolerate others’ opinions and values. Although difficult, it may be better to view others as simply being human, and admit their ideas are different to yours. Always trying to prove yourself right may not be in the long-term interests of all concerned
• If there is a difference in opinion or misunderstanding, get each party to state their positions and get everyone to understand those positions before making themselves heard. This is part of Stephen Covey’s fifth effective habit out of the seven he wrote about (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Simon & Shuster Ltd). The situation becomes less emotional, as both people have to think and listen, using different parts of their brain. The more rational people become, the less likely they are accelerate towards conflict
These proactive ideas may help you identify situations where you can avoid conflict rather than have to deal with it.