How to Handle Conflict
by Andrew E. Schwartz
For many of us, every day is a struggle to avoid conflict. Yet avoidance is practically impossible since the core characteristics, ideas and beliefs of each individual often conflict with our own. Differences of opinion, competitive zeal, and misinterpretations, among other factors, can all generate ill feelings between co-workers within an organization. While we can’t avoid conflict, we can learn how to sidestep negative confrontations by becoming familiar with the types of conflicts that most commonly arise in the work place and by learning how to resolve them. As a manager, you must approach every conflict as an opportunity to improve employee relationships, to lessen tension in the workplace, and to eliminate long-standing problems. Learn to treat conflict as a natural dynamic in employees relationships: it often proves useful by forcing employees to solve problems. Problem-solving results in effective communication. Causes of Conflict: Conflict occurs when two or more individuals (or groups) within an organization need to solve a problem together. The problem could be minor such as organizing a weekly cleanup crew for the coffee break area, or major such as training employees on new and complex corporate procedures. Whatever the scenario, any situation can turn sour. The parties’ interests may clash, one party’s actions may insult the other party, or both parties could just have incompatible personalities. 1. Conflicts of belief: People have different personal beliefs and any deviation from those beliefs is bound to cause problems. This type of conflict must not be allowed to erupt in an organization. 2. Conflicts of attitudes: People have different values, goals and lifestyles, which may offend or annoy others. 3. Conflicts resulting from inappropriate management behavior: Executives are not excluded from causing conflict. Many executives misuse their authority by insulting others. Managers who fail to support employees and follow through on promises and tasks encourage conflicts between individuals by not taking charge. Conflict falls under two major headings: low cost conflict and high-cost conflict. Low cost conflict can be constructive. New ideas and improvements often arise out of low-cost conflict. For example, cleaning up the coffee area can easily be solved by organizing a schedule, which is a constructive solution. Employees who are “set in their ways” may resent the new procedures because they have to re-learn part of their jobs over again from the beginning. Improper training can also push the situation into a high-cost conflict. Letting this type of conflict get out of hand could have a major impact on an organization. With the proper knowledge of how to handle conflicts, whether they are major or minor, you can stop a potentially devastating conflict dead in its tracks. Identifying Conflict: There are generally three ways a manager is informed of conflict. The manager observes discontent brewing between two parties. If this is the case, document the incidents to use as evidence when confronting the involved parties. Do not use this as threatening material, only use it as reinforcement for yourself and so you will remember the particular situations that contributed to the conflict. Another way the manager is alerted to conflict is when one or both of the conflicting parties approach the manager with complaints about the other. In this case, sit one or the both parties down to discuss the problem. The third way a manager learns of conflict is when a third party points out the existing conflict between others. Before confronting the parties, observe them to make a personal assessment of the situation. Watch for these common symptoms of conflict:
• The employees member (or members) involved display no desire to communicate. • Bad tempers are evident.
• Productivity is falling.
• Morale is slipping.
• One or more of those...
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