How to manage conflict in an organisation

We all have different ways of doing things, different belief systems, and different values. As such, it’s inevitable that at some point, conflict will arise within an organisation. These conflicts can happen among team members or between organisation leaders and employees. Some organisations handle conflict better than others. This is especially true when effective policies and conflict management strategies are being enforced properly before conflict arises.

If you haven’t yet put organisational conflict resolution strategies in place within your company, you can start by learning about and using the following tips and tools. These are strategies that you can use no matter how small or large a conflict may be.

Self-awareness can help you manage organisational conflict

Looking inwards might seem like it wouldn’t make an impact on conflict resolution but being honest with yourself and self-reflecting is one of the best ways to deal with conflict.

Before being employees or workers, we are all people. And the best way to understand your colleagues or team leaders is to understand what it feels like to be in the middle of a conflict.

If you understand your particular buttons, you might be able to use these insights avoid escalating situations by taking a step back when you need to.

Self-awareness also includes the full range of emotions you might feel during a conflict. It can be uncomfortable to sit with emotions when you feel you have been wronged or you’re not being listened to. But you shouldn’t necessarily stray away from your negative emotions. Reappraising your negative emotions can help you resolve conflict at work.

Finding out your own conflict resolution style

It’s important to know what approach you take when conflict surfaces. When you’re aware of your conflict resolution style, you can better adapt the methods you use. Sometimes, your style will work well. But when you are interacting with people who don’t respond to your particular conflict resolution style, you will likely have an easier time adapting your skills to the situation if you have taken time to learn about your own style dealing with conflicts.

Being open to listening to others is key in managing conflict

Once you feel comfortable with your ability to maintain self-awareness, it’s time to start listening. Actively listening and being open to the perspectives of others can make people feel more comfortable and less defensive. You might find that one of the reasons this conflict has occurred is because you’re not communicating with your people using their preferred styles or methods.

We all want to feel like we are being heard. Use your active listening skills to make sure your counterpart feels like they are getting their say without being interrupted or snipped at. When you listen without judgment, you might find that there is merit to their perspective or you may be able to think more clearly about what steps could be taken to ensure both parties come to a resolution.

One of the worst things that can happen during a conflict is for someone to be told their wrong without first being listened to. Just as your counterpart in a conflict will not always be right, there will be times when you will be wrong, too. It’s uncomfortable to be told you’re wrong, so keep in mind the type of language that can escalate situations such as these and be open to the fact that you may be wrong.

Steps involved in corporate conflict management and corporate conflict resolution

Self-awareness and active listening are two key components of conflict resolution. However, conflicts aren’t always solved just through good communication. The following are steps involved in conflict management and resolution:

  1. Gain a thorough understanding of the situation: You may believe you understand the situation and the source of the conflict, but if you don’t take the time to ask and listen, you might be making assumptions that escalate the situation or make it more difficult to resolve the conflict. Take time to get a better understanding of the situation and ask questions so you understand the situation fully.
  2. Prepare for the resolution: There are a few things you can do in preparation for conflict resolution. As mentioned early, developing self-awareness and active listening are important foundations to conflict resolution. However, if things are not improving, you may want to bring in a mediator who can help resolve the issues coming from a perspective free of bias.
  3. Implementing measures to reduce conflict: De-escalating the situation may help you reduce conflict. You may need to take a time out in order to do this. If you’ve already created measures and protocols for conflict prevention or resolution, make sure you are enforcing these protocols.
  4. Implement measures to prevent conflict: Every organisation should have protocols for preventing conflict. You can design set protocols for conflict resolution, develop policies and procedures, create guidelines for healthy and positive communication, and regularly collect feedback so you can deal with issues while they’re still small.
  5. Accept people for their strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots: Humans are fallible. We all have our own strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. When you’re attempting to resolve conflict, you shouldn’t expect that someone will change completely. You are not likely to change someone’s work ethic just because you wish you could. We all use different processes for doing work, processing information, and coming to decisions. You should accept people as they are, even if you might not agree with what they think, believe, or do. Working with your team in ways that work for them will usually result in more positive outcomes.

What to do if you’re struggling to reach an agreement

You might not always be able to reach a resolution alone. The Harvard Program on Negotiation encourages avoiding approaching conflict alone. If you’re struggling to reach an agreement, it may be beneficial to bring in a mediator to help.

Beyond hiring a mediator, Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation lists five beneficial conflict resolution steps that can be used by anyone to help reach an agreement. The steps include understanding the desire to be right, preventing escalation, avoiding an “us vs them” mentality, working on addressing deep-rooted issues, and avoiding some types of black-and-white thinking:

  1. So, what do you do when everyone believes their right? Conflicts usually arise when two parties have opposing views but both parties believe they are the ones who are right. It is hard to think objectively and without bias because we are all individuals with our own belief systems. When you’re in the midst of a conflict and you feel tensions rising, it can help to remember this human instinct to be proven right. Focusing on facts or having someone without ties to the situation come in to mediate can help reduce tensions and focus on the situation rather than who is “right” or “wrong”.
  2. Don’t escalate tensions. Effective communication is one of the best approaches to reducing tension and conflict. You’re not going to get very far with name calling or verbal attacks. If you feel like you’re being ignored or threatened, you might want to take control of the situation with ultimatums or threats, but this is usually a recipe for disaster. These types of inflammatory actions can worsen conflict and are best avoided.
  3. Stop thinking with an “us versus themRather than feeling like you and your counterpart are against each other, it can be useful to try to find a common goal that you both want to achieve. This can help you work collaboratively and find a solution together.
  4. Don’t ignore the deep-rooted issues. Conflicts aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes, there are deeper issues laying beneath the surface. If you notice recurring issues within your organisation, there may be something lying deeper beneath the surface. Taking inventory of employee satisfaction relating to wages, workload, management styles, and other common sources of conflict might help you get a better understanding of what people in your workplace are feeling or experiencing and allow you to prevent conflict in the future.
  5. Avoid black-and-white thinking. When you’re in the middle of a conflict, there may be some things you consider non-negotiables or believe to be non-negotiables for your counterpart. Rather than making assumptions, dig deeper to find out what your counterpart may actually be willing negotiate.

Training for conflict resolution in an organisation can prevent conflict

The Harvard Program on Negotiation writes about the importance of objective measures and formal procedures. Training to solve conflict in a company can involve planning the creation and maintenance of such procedures. You can put systems in place for employees to regularly give feedback in a way that makes them feel empowered. This may mean creating anonymous surveys and discussing common thoughts or suggestions that are noted during these surveys.

Additionally, you can bring your organisation together to create conflict resolution protocols and guidelines for communications, so everyone gets the chance to learn about conflict resolution skills and have a say in conflict prevention at your company.

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