Conflicts are common in our everyday life. If we observe our lives closely, we’ve had or even continue having conflicts with people around us. And sometimes, we’re in conflict against various situations.
However, conflicts assume a totally new meaning when they occur at workplace. Regardless whether you’re a business owner, top brass of a corporation or merely an employee, you’re bound to face various kinds of conflicts at workplace.
In some cases, such conflicts could be healthy. But in most cases, they tend to disrupt proper function of the business and affect everyone- from the most senior person at the organization to staff and often, external parties too.
Therefore, it is best to have a proper conflict management strategy at workplace. This ensures that you’re not affected much by such workplace conflicts and nor are your coworkers, seniors or other stakeholders.
Reasons for Workplace Conflict
Before we speak about proven strategies for conflict management at workplace, I’ll discuss some of the main reasons for such situations. Generally, such conflicts would affect almost every organization in the world. This makes it necessary and almost compulsory to have an effective and proven strategy for conflict management.
1. Senior to Junior Conflict
This is a very common type of workplace conflict. It occurs between the immediate senior and one or more of their team members and in some cases, the entire team.
This usually occurs because the senior person such as a supervisor puts undue pressure on one or more team members to perform, without considering individual abilities.
Additionally, such a conflict can also arise due to opposite ideas. The boss wants things done his way while a team member or members believe there’s a better way to go about it.
Another cause for such conflict can arise when the senior blames those working with them for failure to achieve a specific goal or target, without taking any responsibility for poor performance, which could stem from improper or inadequate guidance.
There’re countless reasons for a senior to junior conflict. In such cases, the senior person is usually at fault. Because, they’re unable to give proper directions to one or more staff members working with them.
Hence, the junior staff is unhappy. This leads to conflicts at workplace. Though the senior or bosses are at fault, they’re unwilling to accept their mistakes and continue riding the proverbial high-horse.
2. Junior to Senior Conflict
Junior-to-Senior type of conflicts arise mainly because of hiring incompetent staff and bad hires. In such a situation, it’s always the juniors who’re on the wrong side.
This happens because your boss may have unrealistic or rather high expectations that you’re unable to meet since you lack the adequate experience and skills.
Also, the employer would be partly at fault because they didn’t select the right candidates for the roles.
Such conflicts are also common due to bad hires. A single bad hire can demotivate the entire team and instigate them against the immediate supervisor.
And another reason is office politics. The juniors view the boss as some sort of a necessary evil. Instead of following the boss’ directions, the team starts using their own methods to work.
This leads to conflict as well as confusion at the workplace. As a result, the entire organization suffers.
Generally, such types of situations arise when the team feels their services are being manipulated. And the most common reason for junior to senior conflicts is lack of appreciation from the employer too.
Every staff member, regardless of their status at the organization, expects some degree of appreciation for work well done. And when that is missing, conflicts could arise.
3. Peer to Peer Conflicts
Peer to Peer conflicts can be healthy in a way, if it leads to fair competition between two or more members of the same team.
However, one or more team members may hold a grudge against others because they’re performing to the full potential for the same salary as low performers.
Interpersonal skills also plays a major role in Peer to Peer conflicts.Actually, there could be any number of reasons for peer to peer conflicts. However, the main reason often tends to be the lack of certain skills among some team members.
Therefore, they’re unable to perform well as compared over those who have the necessary skills. Such skills can be soft skills which actually help someone to make the most out of his/her workplace.
Peer to peer conflicts can assume a dangerous dimension too. In some cases, low performers can start playing politics against high performers. Worse, they could end up tarnishing the image and name of the high performers out of intense jealously.
It is best to nip in the bud these kinds of peer to peer conflicts using ways and means I will discuss later in this article.
4. Senior to Senior Conflict
This is the most deadly kind of conflict. Here, one or more senior staff have a conflict with other seniors over some issues.
Their conflict can actually derail the entire operations of the company. The higher the designations of the seniors, the more dangerous this conflict gets.
For example, two groups of directors who cannot get along with one-another will end up pulling the company in two different directions.
Each group or senior will issue their directives. As a result, those working at lower ranks and positions end up with confusion and aren’t able to perform well.
Left unchecked over a period of time, such a conflict can even spell doom of the organization. Juniors, facing confusion over different directives from different seniors will not know what to do.
At best, these juniors will try and perform to the best of their abilities to make sure that no senior gets angry for flouting their directives.
However, they will be so disgruntled that these juniors will look for new jobs elsewhere. This can lead to high attrition and increase in hiring costs.
The cascade effect is that the organization starts losing lots of money due to low performance by juniors, high staff turnover and hiring expenses.
5. Unions against Management
A lot of Human Resources Managers tend to take employee unions for granted. They falsely believe that labor laws and proper job contracts are adequate to protect them against strikes and lockouts.
This is a myth. There’re countless examples worldwide where labor unions have actually been the main cause of downfall of large corporations.
Labor or employee unions usually come into play due to various reasons. These could range from anything such as delays in paying wages to poor working conditions, flouting job contracts and making unreasonable demands from employees to work.
Employee unions have the strength and capabilities to disrupt work indefinitely. This can spell disaster for any organization. Therefore, such conflicts are best avoided.
6. Company and External Party Conflicts
Conflicts between a company and external parties affects the entire echelon- from senior managers and directors to smallest grade employee at workplace.
That’s because conflicts between an employer and external entities generates a lot of bad word-of-the-mouth publicity for both the parties. This arises due to tit-for-tat policies that both adopt.
These conflicts can damage both- the company and the external party. It leaves staff at both organizations unhappy which can lead to poor performance and high attrition.
After all, no staff member wants to be involved in conflicts between their employer and external agencies or entities.
5 Workplace Conflict Management Strategies
The above six examples of workplace conflicts clearly prove they can be disastrous for any organization, regardless of its size and nature of business.
Therefore, it’s best to have superb and proven conflict management strategies or Conflict management styles at workplace.
Having such strategies would help resolve these conflicts, boost morale throughout the company echelons, lead to greater productivity and higher profits too.
1. Appoint an Internal & External Ombudsman
An Internal Ombudsman is a designation within or sometimes outside an organization. The Internal Ombudsman can either be a female or male.
Their main task is to resolve all types of conflicts in the workplace or organization, regardless whether they’re of the senior-to-junior, peer-to-peer, junior-to-senior and also the senior-to-senior type.
When you have any conflicts, the aggrieved persons can approach the Internal Ombudsman and seek resolution. This is not a rule but generally, to work at this position, a graduate in HR or Psychology is necessary.
An Ombudsman listens patiently to the person who has conflict with one or more people at workplace. Then they listen to the other side too.
And finally, the invite both the parties together to work out a resolution. An Ombudsman serves like peacemaker. They are responsible for conflict resolution in the workplace.
Therefore, depending upon the size of your organization and number of employees, you can appoint an Internal Ombudsman within or hire a freelancer to work at that post.
2. Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment
One of the prime causes of conflicts is also sexual harassment, especially of female staff. It can be any type of an internal conflict at workplace.
If the senior is a female, then there could be high chances that male juniors would not like to take directives from her.
Or in some cases, male workers can sexually harass their female peers. Seniors also often engage in such harassment against female juniors.
The best, time tested and proven strategy for conflict management for such situations that female workers could face is to have a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and sexual discrimination.
That sends a clear message that any person, regardless of their designation, seniority or other considerations, will face severe penalties such as termination or even criminal charges if they sexually harass any woman at workplace.
Having such a policy goes a long way in ensuring workplace safety of female staff and helps avoid conflicts within the organization due to this undesirable phenomenon that often strikes every workplace in the world.
3. Regular Meetings with Unions
The best way to avoid conflict between your organization and employee unions is to have regular meetings. Invite members of the union for talks, even though you may have nothing really to discuss.
This helps you learn more about staff morale as well as conflicts within the organization, especially peer-to-peer, senior-to-peer and peer-to-senior types.
In fact, HR managers at some organizations actually rope in assistance from the union to resolve such conflicts.
That’s because employees will readily resolve conflicts among themselves and seniors with other members of the company rather than an external agency.
Such regular meetings with unions can also help prevent strikes and other such undesirable events.
Since the organization members are in regular touch with unions, these meetings will also expose shortcomings within the company that affect employees and provide adequate time to address them in the right manner.
4. Corporate Relations Policy
Having a strong corporate relations policy is the best and proven strategy for conflict management at workplace. It comes handy in resolving issues between an external agency and your organization.
Such a policy also localizes the issue and prevents it from spilling into the workplace and affecting staff while squelching adverse publicity.
To implement a strong corporate communications and relations policy, every organization, especially larger ones, require a good corporate relations manager.
This manager is in charge of maintaining superb relations with external entities. They’re able to communicate effectively with external parties to curb and prevent conflicts.
This directly translates as better morale of staff. Generally, conflicts between external parties and an organization do have a spillover on staff of both entities. This can be avoided by having a strong corporate relations policy and a manager for its implementation.
5. Open House Sessions for Employees
Over a period of years in HR, I found that nothing works better than communications in resolving all sorts of conflicts.
And one of the best ways to improve communications while removing misunderstandings and conflicts is by holding open house sessions between employees and managers at all levels.
This allows individual and group conflicts to come out in open. However, the moderators of such sessions have to ensure and are responsible to implement order. They have to prevent hidden conflicts from becoming quarrels and brawls at workplace.
The best thing to do for such open house sessions is to invite all employees and managers to write down their conflicts with others.
And encourage them to discuss these in a friendly manner without the use of foul language or getting violent.
An open house session actually works wonders. it helps in creating hostile work environment. Conflicts vanish and people become friendly to one another again. And senior managers should take the lead in such conflict resolutions.
In my humble opinion and experience with Human Resources Management, I find that these five techniques work very well in conflict resolution.
You could try them at your workplace too, if you’re a senior. If not, you could take the initiative and try to sort out issues by making the first approach to the person with whom you have a conflict.
Humans aren’t hostile or friendly to one-another. Insecurity makes them so. But once you approach the person you feel is hostile, the other responds in urbanely.
Conflicts usually arise out of self-imagination. We feel someone isn’t treating us well. It’s worth remembering that we’re not the center of the universe and others have their emotions too.
Therefore, making the first approach to resolve a conflict doesn’t diminish your status or hurts self-esteem.
It isn’t difficult to deal with employee unions and external parties as long as you’ve a clean chit and have nothing to fear.
In fact, meeting them directly or through corporate communications department helps us understand own flaws and take adequate steps to bridge them.
The above examples of five proven strategies for conflict management for workplace can be adapted to suit the needs of your organization.
They’re also time tested and proven so you could use them immediately.
Remember, delaying implementation of a conflict management strategy can cost your organization dearly. Therefore, I would suggest every organization serious about retaining staff and remaining in business to implement these strategies at the earliest.