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Conflict management in the workplace

Conflict management seems to be the buzzword in a number of articles that I have read recently and I am seeing more and requests for conflict management training. Firstly you need to understand the definition of a conflict. Read on...
A conflict can be defined as an ongoing state of hostility between two or more people or groups. Conflict management on the other hand is the short or long-term management process used to resolve issues where either party is being stubborn, inflexible, difficult, or whatever.

In most instances, conflicts between staff members and managers are silent. Staff members do not express their views or feelings of conflict openly in front of their immediate manager and prefer to voice their concerns or bad feelings about their manager to their colleagues, family members or friends. If you are currently facing a conflict situation in your working environment, have you looked at the root cause of this conflict?

There are a number of sources of conflict and here are just a few:
• Poor communication channels.
• Friction between two or more people/departments.
• Friction between employee and manager.
• Lack Job recognition and employee development.
• Lack of support from management.
• Operational changes to business.
• Lack of information.
• Lack of resources.
• Salary negotiation deadlocks.

What a manager should be doing!


The factors above influence conflict situations from occurring. As a manager you should have measures in place to avoid these types of situations occurring. These factors mentioned above are just a few that occur mainly in the business world.

Poor communication channels lead to employees feeling frustrated as changes that occur in the company are not communicated from top to bottom. A poor relationship between employees or managers and employees leads to a feeling frustration amongst the lower ranks which later results in a conflict situation when the employee vents their frustration verbally.

Placing effective quality management processes and procedures in place as well as developing a good relationship with your employees will lessen the risk of a conflict situation occurring.

Techniques for managing conflicts


I have developed a process called the 5 A's technique of managing conflicts are they are as follows:
• Assessment.
• Acknowledgement.
• Attitude.
• Action.
• Analysis.

Assessment


The assessment phase is the investigative stage when dealing with conflict situations. In the assessment phase you need to investigate and gather all information related to the conflict. These will include the following:
• What is the conflict?
• Who is responsible for the conflict?
• Is there a history of conflicts with this person / department?

Acknowledgement


Once you have conducted a thorough assessment you need to acknowledge the conflict. If a conflict exists between a manager and an employee, the manager must inform the employee of the conflict at hand and advise them of the procedure for resolution of the conflict.

At this point the manager must begin the formal conflict management resolution protocols which include the following:
• Arrange a meeting between themselves and the employee.
• Inform the employee of the time, date and venue for the meeting both verbally and in writing by means of an email request for a meeting.
• Inform the employee that they may appoint a facilitator to act on their behalf during the meeting. This would only occur if there were hostile interactions between the employee and their manager.
• Send the employee an agenda for the meeting.
• Human resources labour representative should be present at the meeting.

If for example there was a conflict between two departments, the same would apply as above however you would nominate an independent facilitator to chair the meeting to ensure that it does not get hijacked or detoured.

Attitude


Both parties must participate in the process with the right attitude. Going into a conflict management situation with a negative approach has a strong possibility of failing. The attitude must be one of wanting to resolve the issue at hand and clear a way forward so that both parties can continue working together.

Action


During the resolution period of resolving a conflict a fair number of action points will be recorded which must be completed in an acceptable timeframe. Taking action and giving feedback are the two critical key success factors. If you do not take the necessary action the conflict situation will resurface on a higher scale.

An example of this might be where a manager and employee have a conflict between them. The facilitator advises that they should conduct a one on one session weekly to build on their relationship. The action point is to conduct the one on one. Failing to do so will result in a conflict situation. Both the manager and employee will have the opportunity to give one another feedback.

Analysis


Once the conflict situation has been resolved, it should be analysed to determine what caused the conflict situation to begin with and what measures can be put in place to stop this type of situation from reoccurring. The problem in most conflict situations today is that no post conflict management analysis takes place.

In conclusion


Develop and implement a sound quality management function and improve your one on one interaction with your employees and conflicts within your department will become a thing of the past. Communication is the key most important ingredient for avoiding conflict situations.

About Howard Badler

Howard Badler has trained and consulted to the Justice Department of the Northwest Province and a variety of companies in a number of industries. He can be contacted at {{howard@customercaretraining.co.za}}.
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