Conflict can simply be described as a clash. It could be a clash of personality, interest, values or direction. More importantly it could be a clash about differing values. There is constructive and destructive conflict. When conflict is constructive, it produces solutions, clarity and is backed up by good communication. It results in better understanding and co-operation. Destructive conflict wastes time, decreases morale, causes mistrust, resentment and even anger, and it displays a breakdown in communication. It may leave scars.
Know that conflict does not disappear on its own. Instead, like an illness, it festers below the surface until the symptoms cannot be ignored. That is the time not only to address the symptoms, but also try to establish the cause. Typical causes include: an untenable workload, mounting pressures, a feeling of imbalance or instability, differences of opinion and incompetence. Make an effort to collaborate, accommodate and communicate. If you cannot find a clear solution that suits everyone, then work towards compromise.
Know that every circumstance is different, but these 10 point guidelines could be helpful in most conflict situations in the workplace:
- If a team member approaches you with conflict, start by acknowledging the problem before even considering a solution. Acknowledge too how they feel.
- Some people want to process possible solutions slowly. Plan for this.
- Introduce a conversation.
- Preferably find a neutral environment – your office with you behind your desk may not be the right start.
- Listen carefully and make notes.
- If appropriate, listen to two individuals separately and then mediate a collaborative conversation.
- Allow differences of opinion to be communicated, and expect objections.
- Prevent interruptions.
- Take responsibility for action with your team.
- Facilitate feedback.
Know that you may need to include apologies in the process, and that it may have to start with yours. “Ask yourself, ‘What difference will this thing we’re fighting about make in 10 years? In one year? In a month?.”