Workplaces that Work
Conflict at Work
Conflict exists in every organization and to a certain extent indicates a healthy exchange of ideas and creativity. However, counter-productive conflict can result in employee dissatisfaction, reduced productivity, poor service to clients, absenteeism and increased employee turnover, increased work-related stress or, worse case scenario, litigation based on claims of harassment or a hostile work environment.
In this section, we look at managing the day to day conflict that occurs in all workplaces – ways to identify and understand it and ways to manage it effectively. As an executive director or manager, it is often your role to discern when a conflict is a normal part of the work day and work relationships or whether you need to engage an external alternative and/or refer to a more formal conflict resolution policy and procedure.
For more information on an employer's legal requirements and sample policies related to conflict resolution, please refer to the Conflict Resolution section of the HR Toolkit's list of Sample Policies on Common HR Topics.
In this Section:
•Common sources of conflict
•Understanding conflict styles
•Using styles strategically
•Dealing with difficult people
What is this?
Related HR Management Standard:
The organization has a conflict resolution policy.
Common sources of conflict
Conflict is an inevitable part of human relationships. Where commitment to mission and long hours with minimal resources intersect, nonprofit workplaces can be rife with conflict interchanges. Conflict can arise from managing differing perspectives and seemingly incompatible concerns. If we can accept it as a natural part of our emotional landscape, it can be easier to work with than if we expect (or wish!) conflict to disappear and never resurface.
As a manager, it is important to be able to identify and to understand the varying levels of conflicts and how these levels are manifested in different ways. An early sign of conflict is that "nagging feeling" or tension you feel, indicating that something is brewing under the surface. Pay attention to non-verbal behaviours such as crossed-arms, eyes lowered or someone sitting back or away from you or the group. These signs can provide you with important information about your current situation and can help you in assessing your next steps. If these signs are not dealt with in a timely manner, this sense of apprehension can shift to another level of conflict and can be manifested more directly with opposition and conviction. This aspect of conflict is addressed in more depth in the sections below.
More often than not, these early warning signs are a part of a larger web of dynamics present in your organization. As part of our analysis, it is helpful to understand the source of potential conflict. Below are some common sources of conflict:
Involves incompatibility of preferences, principles and practices that people believe in such as religion, ethics or politics.
Occurs when each party wishes to maintain or maximize the amount of influence that it exerts in the relationship and the social setting such as in a decision making process.
Involves competing to attain scarce resources such as monetary or human resources.
Occurs when two people or more have incompatible needs, goals, or approaches in their relationship such as different communication or work styles.
Involves inequalities in the organizational chart and how employees report to one another.
Involves external pressures outside of the organization such as a recession, a changing government, or a high employment rate.
Once you know more about where the conflict...