When there is human interaction, conflicts are certain to happen. A business or organization requires people from various backgrounds and experience levels to work together. While diversity is fantastic for a company, lots of different people working together will result in conflict no matter what.
There is no way to eliminate conflict entirely, no matter how well, on average, people work together. If there doesn’t appear to be any conflict, then either people are keeping issues hidden or managers are just not noticing. Neither is healthy for a company in the long term. Addressing conflicts appropriately as soon as they happen is better for everyone and leads to better team morale.
When conflicts arise, some guidelines must be in place that offer managers and team leaders a framework for negotiation and ensure that all parties involved are treated fairly and respectfully. Business leaders and those concerned with negotiation must be careful not to take a side so strongly that the other party feels that they are being completely ignored.
To implement an excellent strategy for negotiation, it is first necessary to understand the most common causes of conflict.
The Most Common Conflict Causes
- Communication breakdown
In an ideal business world, every employee would have exceptional communication skills. This means that their written and verbal communications would be clear, concise and easy for everyone to understand. In addition, they would never forget to use them when working on a project or interacting with clients.
The reality is that people’s communication skills vary greatly, and even those who have them don’t always choose to use them or even remember to do so. Over time, people’s communication skills improve. Leaders who offer guidance when communication is poor help to hasten the improvement process.
- The past
Historical events can lead to future conflict. These events may not even have occurred at or within the ranks of the company or organization. Emotional baggage from an employee’s past work or home life may be hard to see, but when negotiating a conflict resolution, it is important to consider that someone’s past could be playing a significant role.
If there has been conflict at the company in the past, it is a good idea to consider these events and their influence when strategizing how to resolve the current dispute. Ideally, there will be a record kept of the previous problem that can be referenced for background purposes.
The workplace can be very competitive. Some employees are very determined and driven to succeed, which is not a bad thing. However, competition can breed conflict. Conflict becomes far more likely when two groups of employees or even two individuals compete with one another.
Recognizing strong levels of competitiveness is important. This type of determination for success can be honed and used to the company’s advantage, while ensuring that both parties get the recognition and opportunities they deserve.
Strong business leaders can teach others how to be competitive with minimal conflict so that there is less chance of creating a hostile environment within the company.
- Unclear job descriptions and expectations
When someone applies for a job, they typically read a job description supplied by human resources. Naturally, this is what they assume they will be responsible for. However, the reality is that when someone is trained and actually starts work, they find that their job may vary a little or a lot from what they signed up for. This can lead to conflicts among employees at all levels.
It may not be the fault of an employee if something doesn’t get done that is not supposed to be their job, or if the task is done poorly. Sometimes, another employee may feel as though someone is trying to do their job for them when they really do not want the help.
Clarifying job duties is critical to getting the most out of each staff member. Business leaders need to be clear about their expectations so that employees can set realistic goals and not constantly be concerned that they are neglecting something.
- Clashing personalities and opinions
While it is great to work in a group where everyone gets along, there are certain to be some clashing opinions and personality types at medium to large companies. Negotiating with vastly different personalities can be tricky, especially if those involved are easily offended. In larger companies, it is sometimes best to create some distance between workers if there will be an ongoing conflict.
In extreme cases, business leaders may have to evaluate and see if an employee is worth keeping if they refuse to make reasonable accommodations to work well and get along with others. Prejudice or hateful language or tactics should never be tolerated.
- Negotiation strategies and conflict resolution
Sometimes it is best to give each party at least part of their wants. Often, a compromise is an easiest and fastest solution. Of course, compromises can be just temporary solutions. If they are not a definitive solution, it needs to be made clear to both parties that further resolution is being worked out and that the issues will be revisited at a later date.
Never make a promise to have an issue resolved by a specific time unless you can be absolutely certain that the company can make it happen. It is better to give no specific timeline at all, or a date that is a lot further out than it is likely to take, than to give a fast timeline and not deliver on it. This leads to employees not trusting leaders to follow through on their promises. When employees feel disrespected and undervalued, it will show in their work performance.
Getting two parties to work together to create a solution is wonderful when you can make it happen. This is a beneficial strategy when dealing with clients that have an issue. For example, let’s say that your company designs custom-made storage buildings. Your client points out some serious design issues and is considering reaching out to another company for a second opinion. In this case, it is best if your design team immediately consults with the client, listens to their concerns, and offers solutions that come as close as possible to the design they have in mind.
If there is a reason that a change cannot be made, it is important to explain why. In the case of a building, there may be building codes and rules that prevent any licensed contractor from doing what the client is asking you to do.
In business, it is also important to remember that sometimes, the best effort at collaboration will fail because the other party is unwilling to listen or collaborate. The best you can do is make a great effort. In many cases, the results will work in everyone’s favor.
Collaboration within a company is ideal because it fosters an environment where teamwork is seen as the best approach. Getting employees to improve how well they work together and playing a major role in the actual resolution of the conflict is far better than business leaders having to shoulder the largest part of the work. Collaboration results in a workforce that is more skilled and efficient.
Major Steps in Conflict Resolution
- Admit that there is a problem
It is important that business leaders and managers quickly acknowledge the conflict. If the conflict is between two employees or groups within a company, then managers need to make sure that everyone involved knows that the problem is out in the open. This might mean sending out a group email or meeting with some or all of the involved parties. Major meetings that are in person or via video conferencing are common methods.
- Pinpoint the exact issue
Before any resolution strategy is created, it is critical to clarify the precise problem. While this may seem like common sense, it can actually be quite unclear what the root conflict is because people can easily get sidetracked by all the secondary issues. Defining the problem means listening to both parties and making sure that they are both completely aware of what the conflict is actually about. When this is agreed upon, it is far easier to start planning appropriate compromises and solutions to resolve the conflict quickly.
- Carefully consider where to meet to negotiate
Digital meetings via Zoom or Google Chat are often used for conflict resolution because they allow everyone to be on their own turf. If a conflict is within a company, then it is a good idea to choose a meeting room rather than one party or business leader’s office. Neutral ground offers a higher level of comfort because it eliminates some of the potential for people feeling intimidated by the other involved parties.
If the conflict is with a client, then meeting outside of either person’s workplace or communicating via video chat is a good idea. At the very least, businesses should consider letting the client choose an appropriate method or place to meet. In some businesses, meeting at a mutually liked lunch spot or café can work well.
- Give everyone a chance to voice their opinion
Both sides in the conflict need to have a chance to give their opinion. Mediators and business leaders may need to create a plan for the meeting in advance so that equal time is offered to each side and there is time for strategizing. Having a schedule can help everyone involved stay focused and avoid wasting time getting sidetracked by petty matters. This also eliminates one side from overly dominating the meeting.
Finding solutions that are agreeable to both parties is ideal. Each side should be given a chance to offer solutions that are mutually appealing.
- Make a plan to implement the agreed strategy
It’s crucial that everyone understands at the end of a conflict resolution meeting what they need to do to fulfill their end of the bargain. Setting a timeline is useful, but it is important to be realistic. Implementing a new strategy can take time. Setting realistic goals and achieving them relatively quickly is better than being too ambitious and failing to meet an unrealistic timeline.
How do managers gain conflict resolution skills?
There are many ways to get better at managing conflicts in the workplace. Here are a few things that management can do to reduce or resolve conflicts.
- Improve communications at their company
Employees need to have a good way to communicate with everyone. Email is often used, but increasingly more companies are turning to workplace communications tools such as Slack or Airtable. These tools are inexpensive and allow employees to message each other privately or send messages and announcements throughout the company. Slack has an excellent mobile app, which means that even when someone is away from their desk, they can have good access to internal communications.
Managers can customize workplace tools such as Slack. Groups can be created so that workers can see messages about specific projects or within a chosen department. Of course, there are posting permission settings to limit who can make a companywide announcement, for instance.
- Consider an advanced degree
Completing an MBA program online will help you learn the skills you need to be an excellent business leader. Kettering University Online offers a Master of Business Administration program that can be completed in as little as 18 months. Another great aspect of the program is that you can choose to specialize in a specific area of business. A three-course certificate in Management and Leadership is a good choice for those who want to work in administration.
- Make an effort at being a problem solver
If you see an opportunity to help others solve problems at work, then try to help out when your work schedule will allow it. When there are opportunities to work with a team to solve a problem, volunteer to be part of that. While you are learning these skills, you will also be showing those in higher positions than you that you are motivated and dedicated to improving the workplace. When promotions and other opportunities are available, you will stand out.
- Encourage a teamwork environment
Encouraging others to work as a team and to set aside differences to do something great will build your conflict resolution skills and make your company stronger.
Showing employees that they can get more done and achieve better results by working together is important at any company. This will help everyone involved as they advance in their respective careers.
Commending workers for a job well done encourages morale and helps showcase the value of working together to achieve goals.
The benefits of great conflict resolution are innumerable
Conflict may be part of working with others, but it is something that is best avoided if possible. This is not to say that problems should be put aside and not addressed. Below are a few of the benefits of strong conflict resolution skills and strategies.
- Improves the overall morale at your company or organization
You need workers to feel good about their job if you want your company to have the highest chance of success. When employees feel appreciated, they work harder to achieve their goals. Poor morale reduces the quality of work and the amount that gets done.
- Reduces costs from poor employee retention
Retaining employees helps your company. Recruiting and training new workers takes time and costs money. Hiring an employee and making sure that they develop their skills in a positive work environment reduces costs and means that you have a more skilled workforce over time. A long-standing employee knows things about your industry and business that cannot be matched by most new hires.
Severance packages and unemployment benefits can add further costs if you find that employees are not performing well and you have to let them go. The entire problem may be due to poor morale. Finding ways to keep employees satisfied is often far less expensive than hiring new ones.
- Increases awareness of different types of people and personalities
Working through a conflict can lead to employees having a better understanding of different types of people. This alone can reduce future conflicts. Learning to respect and understand differences helps everyone in the long term.
With workplaces becoming more diverse than ever before, learning to work with people who are different from what you are used to is an essential business skill.
While conflict is inevitable over time at a company or organization, having a good conflict resolution plan and guidelines is important. When conflicts are resolved quickly, and employees feel that they have been given the attention and respect they deserve, the efficiency and success of the company are increased.
Business leaders must develop good conflict-resolution skills if they want to succeed. Managers who excel at conflict resolution will experience many opportunities for career advancement.
Good conflict resolution makes companies and organizations stronger and more likely to achieve great success and long-term profitability.
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