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Defusing conflict

There is a saying that variety is the spice of life. Most people prefer variety when it comes to choosing the right frame for their reading glasses, a tie, a shirt, a dress or shoes, but more often than not people are less interested in a variety of opinions, they struggle to communicate in a variety of languages and they find it challenging to understand and be tolerant of a variety of customs and religions.
The reality is that variety really is everywhere and it exists internally and externally to your company, stretching beyond your employees to suppliers and clients as well. It is therefore only natural that conflict will arise from time to time and it is critical for managers to be able to handle conflict when it arises, as well as develop ways of preventing conflict from becoming damaging to their teams.

Here are five tips to help you along the way:

1) Deal with conflict immediately

Although dealing with conflict is seldom a pleasant experience, you must avoid the temptation to ignore it and hope that it will just go away. The longer you avoid dealing with the issue, the more damage it can do and the more difficult it will be to get people to change their behaviour. That being said - choose your timing carefully. It is important for all parties present to be calm and constructive.

2) Be approachable

People need to feel that they can come to you at any time if they have an issue, that they can express themselves freely and that you will listen. People need to be confident that you will not judge, be biased or hold grudges. They must be able to rely on you to be fair, understanding, helpful and forgiving. Make sure that your behaviour sets a good example.

3) Communicate effectively

If you are going to be of any assistance to prevent conflict from becoming damaging to your teams, you have to be able to articulate thoughts and ideas clearly. Paraphrase, clarify and question to ensure that you get an accurate understanding of the issue. Ask "why" on a regular basis, to assist you in identifying underlying assumptions and prevent them from clouding perceptions.

Help people to express themselves in a manner that is professional, constructive and respectful. Always stick to the facts and current issues, do not allow the situation to escalate into a personal attack. The focus should never be on allocating blame. If the situation escalates, take a break and wait for emotions to subside.

4) Focus on actionable solutions

Don't belabour what can't be changed. The past cannot be undone. Now is the time to look forward at how we can improve the current situation and apply what we have learnt from the present situation. Encourage people to come up with ideas for and take ownership of the solution.

5) Keep team issues within the team

Talking outside allows conflict to build and fester, without being dealt with directly. This can create a negative perception of your team and influence stakeholders negatively.

Ultimately conflict is an unavoidable part of life, but if we deal with it in the right way, it can help our teams to become even stronger - together.

On 18 September, Adapt To Change will host Time to Talk, a free webinar addressing the issue of communication and offering practical advice on how you can improve your skills. The webinar will take place from 19:00 to 20:30 (CAT) and participants can register at here.
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About Su-Mari Du Bruyn

Su-Mari Du Bruyn is co-founder of the company Adapt To Change. She is a qualified HR practitioner and logistics specialist and is passionate about Continuous Improvement and people development.