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Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Managing conflict in the workplace

Leadership and conflict go hand in hand, and how leaders manage these situations can have a direct impact on your business. From petty grievances to long-standing issues, conflict not only affects those directly involved but sends ripples through the workplace that can have a negative impact on morale.

What are the causes of workplace conflicts?

There are many reasons conflict can occur, but top of the list has to be poor communication. Employees need to understand their roles and responsibilities clearly, and why they are being asked to carry out the tasks that are assigned to them. Miscommunicated messages can lead to mistakes and errors, which further impacts on conflict and demotivated employees. Poor communication can have far-reaching implications other than leaving people feeling angry or demotivated. It can cause stress, relationship breakdown, anxiety, low morale, and lead to speculative workplace gossip, all of which are unhealthy and not conducive to a positive working environment.

Personality clashes in teams and between managers and their frontline workers can cause conflict on a large scale if not managed correctly. All of the individuals who make up the workforce in your organisation will have different personality types and values that need to be carefully managed. What one person finds acceptable in regards to actions and behaviour, another may not. Understanding the personality types you have in your teams, and utilising them so that they play to their strengths and values is essential to avoid conflict. Someone who is happy to be blunt and direct may offend someone who finds a straight-talking attitude rude and offensive.

A competitive workplace can be healthy if managed correctly and used to maximise performance without giving way to sabotage, in-house arguing and creating a hostile environment. Many working environments are competitive purely by their nature; sales teams being a good example of this.  Competitiveness is what drives many of these team members, but it needs to be managed correctly if the business is to prosper, and employees are to stay engaged and committed to the team they are part of. Creating an overly competitive working atmosphere that is heavily waged on financial gain can lead to a dysfunctional team that is focused on personal gain and could even lead to sabotage, dishonesty and poor employee mental wellbeing.

How to manage conflict?

There is no one size fits all answer to this question because every conflict is different, and every individual responds differently. What is clear is that conflict needs to be handled head-on — burying your head in the sand when you can see tensions brewing will lead to large scale problems further down the line. In fact, nipping it in the bud is the easiest solution and one that will have a more positive outcome for everyone. An essential ingredient of conflict resolution is neutrality; remaining impartial will help you to forge ahead with a fair resolution to any conflict. It is never a good idea to meet with conflicting individuals separately as it could allow them to polarise their position. Meeting employees together allows them to both have their say in a controlled environment, and they are less likely to ‘bend the facts’ or act aggressively. Allow the individuals to talk, encourage them to be mindful of how they present their side of the conflict and make sure that you are remaining impartial and seeking to find the facts that have given rise to the conflict so that a resolution can be met.

It is important to consider all the factors that lead to conflict. For example, have the company’s processes or even management style been a catalyst for the conflict? Sometimes conflict is just a case of personality clashes. But it takes all sorts to make a world. We all have to find a way to work together to get the best out of each other and create a happy, thriving working environment. Managing conflict as soon as, or where possible, before it arises, is an essential part of any manager’s role, but have you given your leaders the right tools to achieve this?

GMD has successfully worked with various organisations in the automotive industry to develop management and leadership capabilities and qualities to maximise a business’s performance. Get in touch with our team to find out how we can help you.

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