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Conflicts are inevitable. Having different goals and styles can actually promote innovative solutions, creativity, and help bring about change. However negative results happen when conflicts are associated with blame, anger, and grudges. No matter what the source of the conflict is, resolution before the situation escalates is essential.
When addressing conflicts, a key step is focus on the issue, not the person.
When investigating conflicts in the workplace, be sure to look for root causes especially if conflicts seem to be increasing. For example, Health Canada reports that 2 to 3* times the number of conflicts can arise from stress in the workplace. The root cause – in this case, stress – may be caused by any number of sources.
* From: Health Canada, 2000. “Best Advice on Stress Risk Management in the Workplace”
Strategies to address conflict successfully in the workplace include:
Employees should be encouraged to seek help when resolving conflicts. The situation should be brought to the attention of the relevant parties. Employees may wish to try to discuss the situation with the person (people) they are having the conflict with, or they may wish to ask for help from other people.
If the issue is not serious or severe, resolution process can come from within the employee’s department, if possible. If the employee feels uncomfortable raising the issue within their department, they should know where to seek help. Options may be to work with the Human Resources department, a designated manager, or through the use of an external professional.
Not all situations will require the same option or method of resolution. You may find that one type of strategy works well for certain situations or people, and not in other situations or with certain people.
Try to remain flexible and use a variety of strategies including:
Avoiding: In some cases, it may be appropriate to leave a conflict unresolved. In other cases, just leave the conflict unresolved for a cooling off period.
Accommodating: Accepting that there is a minor conflict (an “agreeing to disagree” arrangement) can be an important gesture for minor issues. Accommodating on the small issues may help to build trust and respect between those with the conflict.
Confronting: Discussing face-to-face in a respectful and professional manner may also help. Be sure to consider the other person’s position and feelings on the issue. Confronting may include explaining why certain decisions were made (“I did not use your idea because…”) and, if necessary, a further explanation such as “But unfortunately, the final decision for the project was made by (name) for those reasons”.
Collaborating: Like confronting, you discuss the situation directly with the other person. However, you may decide to follow the explanation with an offer to involve the other person in another way. (“But, I was wondering if you had any ideas about… ”).
Compromising: With this option, the differences in opinion are discussed. A plan or option is reached together, and often both sides agree to modify their position.
Communication: Clear communication is essential for good working relationships. Often, subtle differences in verbal and nonverbal communications can change the way a situation is seen and interpreted. The more emotional the situation becomes, the more these cues affect our interpretation of the event(s).
Mediation is a more formal way to reach an understanding of the issue(s). The mediator should be someone who does not have an emotional stake in the outcome. Mediators may be from within the company, or a professional from outside. Resolving conflicts works best when people are calm, and can shift the focus to the issue instead of the people.