Even in the ideal working environment, we expect conflict to arise. A diverse set of viewpoints, while excellent for innovation, can often trigger some disputes. Consequently, the goal of a business should never be to erase conflict as it can promote positive change. Instead, we should encourage healthy ways to navigate it in order to overcome an issue.
We don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note. Only notes that are different can harmonize. The same is true with people.Steve Goodier
Prevention Is Key
You may recall from your days in elementary school that teachers would spend the entire first week working on procedures. Children are taught how to conduct themselves in every situation from walking in line to raising their hands to answer. We don’t want our kids to fail, so we establish procedures to help them succeed from day to day. Any good teacher can tell you that procedures prevent misconduct.
Similarly, we can use this method in business. If we teach how to navigate conflict during employee training, we can prevent a lot of later mishaps. For example, some ways we can help our employees succeed are:
- Conflict resolution training for new-hires
- Comprehensive tools outlined in the employee handbook
- Extended training practices for leadership
- Establishing a chain of command
- Clear communication
When Conflicts Arise
Depersonalize! One of the hardest parts of conflict is that certain things can feel personal. This is especially difficult when the working environment is quite friendly. Critiquing a project or performance should never feel like a personal attack. It’s important to teach employees to first separate the problem from the individual.
Compromise IS the solution. Ego has no place in resolving workplace conflicts. As Laree Kiely explains in this short video on how to resolve conflicts at work, conflict resolution is not about being right or wrong. Instead, it is about making compromises to resolve a problem.
Plan ahead. Another key to conflict resolution is planning any interaction which aims to address a situation. Write down the problem, analyze it, and be open-minded about receiving feedback. Whether a problem is accidental or deliberate, those working to resolve must have good active listening skills, empathy, and be willing to take responsibility for fixing the issue. It is best to go in with a clear head about everything to be discussed.
Use the tools given to you. Ideally, strong guidelines for dealing with conflict, special training, and an action plan for conflict will keep the environment harmonious. Conflict is not black and white, however. Some issues will take longer to resolve than others. Consequently, these will test our patience and fortitude. It’s important to go back through action plans as resolution processes unfold to make sure to stay the course to avoid making an issue worse.
A Word of Caution
Conflict resolution guidelines are for bigger, habitual problems. There are likely hundreds of disagreements weekly in any given workspace which don’t require a formal plan to address. In fact, making a big production over every minor issue is a huge time-waster and can backfire quickly. Having good communication skills can be all that is needed for daily situations. It’s best to reserve formal meetings for bigger problems to keep the workplace feeling positive and productive.