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7 tips on how to manage conflict at work

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by capslocked, Sep 6, 2015.

  1. (Business Mentor's notes: Marc B. Castrodes is a corporate consultant, motivational speaker, and trainer. He has been doing trainings on Conflict Management, Managing Difficult Conversations, Motivational Leadership, and Effective Communication among many other topics, for ten years now. He is the lead consultant of Arete Leadership Development Consultancy. He also does consulting and training work in partnership with Inspire Leadership Development Consultancy. He is a lawyer by training, but he has since retired from litigation work to focus on alternative dispute resolution. He is a professional conciliator and mediator for business, commercial, civil, and family disputes. He is also an entrepreneur who together with his wife Tricia manages Original Cookie Sticks.)

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    MANILA - Conflict in the workplace can affect efficiency, create a negative atmosphere, damage the brand, and cause stress. Many employees these days, unfortunately, think that conflict at work means the end of the road for them in that company.

    The lack of a system and the capability to resolve conflict allow conflicts to fester and create a culture that builds silos and weaken teams. An unhealthy workplace atmosphere is one of the primary drivers of high attrition rates.

    The need to manage conflict well is highlighted by the fact that we have entered the R-Economy or the Relationship Economy. On top of the list of differentiating factors for business today is strong customer or client relationship. But internal relationships affect external relationships, hence it is necessary that we ensure that teams are working well together, able to resolve their internal issues effectively, so they could take care of clients.

    Conflict need not be the end of a relationship or an organization. We are not facing the devil and the deep blue see when we are in a conflict situation. In fact, conflict gives opportunities. With the right mindset, knowledge, and skills, conflict can be resolved in a positive way.

    Here are seven things you need to know to manage conflict well:

    1. Do not overreact or act in haste.

    Overreaction and acting in haste will complicate the conflict or create news ones. Whenever there is conflict in your organization, the first thing you need to do is to diagnose. Stop and ask what is causing the conflict. A good diagnosis of the situation would allow you to speak correctly and speak to the right people. In a conflict situation, what to say, when to say them, and to whom are absolutely important. To determine those, one has to know the cause of the conflict, the people involved, the extent of the conflict, and the possible repercussions. Some conflicts are purely relationship issues, others are caused by differences or a misunderstanding of goals, approaches, or priorities. The first task of a good conflict manager, therefore, is to know what the problem or the challenge is.

    2. Manage the fight or flight instinct.

    People facing conflict, humans that they are, will be prone to act out of the basic fight or flight instinct. Conflict creates a threat or an uncertainty, which triggers the natural human tendency to suppress the threat or to evade the danger. Our disposition towards this can be genetic or upbringing. The first thing to do is to realize that neither fighting nor fleeing would effectively solve a conflict. Fighting and suppressing an opponent may look like a victory, but that kind of victory usually does not involve winning a persons respect and cooperation. Fleeing, walking away, resigning may also look like it solved a conflict but the truth is, the persons who were involved in that conflict left it no better than they were when they started it. The likelihood is they will be starting new conflicts of a similar nature wherever they go, because they walked away from the last one without learning from it. How to manage our instinct is not easy.

    I have three suggestions: First, recognize your instinct and know your triggers. Like the Hulk in Avengers, he answered Captain America’s question about how he controls his anger by saying, “I am always angry.” When we know our tendency and watch out for our triggers, we can better manage it.

    Second, we need to stop judging people and making conclusions about them. The conclusions we form in our head about people will dictate how we will treat them. If we entertain thoughts in our head before we even talk to them, in the likes of “bobo,” “tanga,” “bastos,” and "walang alam,” among others--it is very likely that we will treat them and speak to them according to those conclusions we made about them.

    Third, we should not assume that we know all the facts about the issue or incident. Having assumptions will make us feel superior. Once we feel superior, we will be tempted to punish the inferior. Instead of assuming that we know better, we should ask questions. Manage conflict by asking questions.

    3. Think of conflict as opportunity, and turn a difficult into one that could bring good possibilities.

    Here are a few of those opportunities that conflict brings: First, conflict really is an opportunity to know people and the organization. There is no better time to know the kind of people we work with than when they are stretched by conflict. When their emotions are heightened and their self-control is tested then we will know their tendencies, their strengths, and weaknesses.

    Second, conflict also allows us to determine gaps within our organization. Conflict will highlight deficiencies in the kind of rules we have and their implementation, protocol gaps, or communication issues.

    Third, conflict is also an opportunity to teach and train. When people mess up, that’s when they are ready to be taught. We should, therefore, treat each conflict situation to help people mature and become better professionals. Lastly, conflict can also be an opportunity to grow in leadership. The challenges of life come in increments. If we handle the conflict situations that we face when we are still lowly employees or businessmen, then we are preparing ourselves for the bigger challenges up ahead. Our heart muscles will be strengthened and our communication skills will be sharpened. If we are conflict-averse, we will not be prepared to manage conflict when they come.

    4. Overlook if you can.

    I love these wise words: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” And another proverb says, “It is wise for a man to overlook and offense.” The modern world of instant feedback and a ready social media platform for our gripes and complaints have made us very reactive and too expressive, at the risk of tact. This tendency to express and blurt out our thoughts whether in person or social media could create unnecessary conflict. If it is just personal, if it does not really affect the delivery of the service or completion of a project; if it is just for example our boss’ manner in giving the order that day or the way the client treated us that day, or just a snide remark during the meeting, we could just brush those off our shoulders and choose to forgive and move-on. Life can be a lot more peaceful if we rediscover tact, self-control, and grace for others’ bad days.

    5. Learn conflict management

    Conflict management is a skill. It can be learned. Good confrontation skills can be learned. How to confront a co-worker in a manner that builds rather than destroys is a skill. How to reprimand in a manner that will not drive our subordinates out of the company is something we could learn. How to help an employee complaining about another employee or even his spouse is called conflict counselling, which can be learned. And helping people resolve conflict, and find a mutually acceptable solution to issues, in a safe and orderly manner is called mediation. That can be learned too. There are good books and seminars on those topics. I suggest we seek them out and learn the skills. The goal of a good leader in this R-Economy is to keep good employees and keep them working happily together. It is a very and unfortunate if we lose good people simply because we could not transform conflict into an opportunity for growth and an opportunity to foster tolerance and acceptance. Reading this article is just the beginning, go and learn how to do it!

    6. Create happy memories.

    Make it a policy to create as many good memories in the work place as possible. If employees realize that the good days far outnumber the bad, and there are more reasons to be excited for the future in our organization than outside, then they will stay and be positive contributors. Happy people are productive people. We should achieve our objectives not at the expense of the pyscho-emotional well-being of our employees. We can be productive while happy, in fact it is when we are happy that we are most productive.

    7. Establish protocols for conflict situations.

    In order for people not to be devastated by conflict situations, they have to know how and whom to approach whenever they face conflict. They will believe that conflict not does mean an end to their employment in the company, if they know of a process to resolve conflicts and disputes. Human resource teams should be equipped to do conflict counselling and mediation. Better still, managers and supervisors should be equipped to intervene in conflict situations.

    “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
     
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