When people work together, conflicts are bound to occur. Conflict is a painful reality in the workplace. It is usually a key reason for poor productivity and frustration. But does conflict have to bring down the morale of workers or affect their productivity? Well, it doesn’t have to be so. If well managed, it can improve team outcomes.
Conflicts cannot be wished away. It can arise simply from misunderstanding, poor communication, and negative attitudes. Executives are also not immune to conflict. Regardless of the level at which conflict occurs, it can disrupt the team spirit as well as the workplace and even pose a huge threat to productivity. But successful top managers understand how to manage conflict and limit its negative effect. Here are the key strategies they use to manage conflicts in the workplace.
1. Coaching Teams to Collaborate
Top managers who understand the kind of conflict resolution technique each worker uses can give them personalized guidance on what they should do to collaborate at work. To collaborate means to make an effort to work with the other person to find a win-win solution to the problem at hand. The solution should be one that satisfies the concerns of both parties. There are team members who will need to be more assertive to collaborate. Others will need to be more cooperative. The manager can act as a mediator in the early stages of the collaboration. In so doing, he/she helps the individuals through the process.
The persons involved in the conflict state their needs, then they brainstorm. This helps them resolve. Once the parties agree on the resolution, they implement it. With time, the team becomes comfortable with the process enough to handle it on their own. Thus, they only seek the manager’s guidance when they feel stuck.
Collaboration is a choice of most top managers as it reinforces mutual trust and respect, besides actually solving the actual problem. The manager also earns a good reputation as a good mediator after coaching his team on how to collaborate. The outcome is also a shared responsibility. However, for it to be successful, it requires commitment from all parties
2. Using Incentives and Rewards
Since a top manager has access to resources, he/she can use them to reward disputants for changing their behavior. When negotiating, it is essential to emphasize the incentives and rewards if the conflict is resolved productively by both parties.
Here are some actions that can be operated to avoid hitting a deadlock in the final stages of the negotiation:
- Have comprehensive and convincing explanations offered as to why the suggestions made by the other party cannot be accepted.
- Express a willingness to review the matter or suggestions pursued by the other party in the future.
- During the finalization of the main contract, provide an ancillary contract consisting of additional advantages in the future for both parties.
- In the final phase, state the consequences of a failed negotiation and emphasize the advantages to both parties leading them to a win-win resolution.
3. Establishing Specific Job Roles and Responsibilities
When there are role ambiguities among the employees, conflicts will arise. When an employee works on behalf of another employee but that goes unnoticed, again conflicts will arise. Top managers need to create fixed job roles and responsibilities. This will help to manage conflicts among the workers.
Sometimes an organization has workers who are ambitious and who want to succeed in a short time. In these organizations, conflicts of the above nature might occur. The way to minimize them is by having set job descriptions. Secondly, if an employee works for another, he/she should be credited for it. The managers can recognize employees in a system such as “Employee of the year”
Here are some ways top managers use to establish job roles and responsibilities.
- Creating an outline that identifies and prioritizes the duties of a position. Employees use this to understand what they must do to be successful.
- Being specific when writing the roles and responsibilities. This is because the job descriptions guide personnel actions.
- Using action words. This is because the employees will depend on job descriptions to better understand their duties and factions. The action verbs should describe roles and responsibilities.
- Providing detailed and precise roles.
- Communicating the expectations. Reflect upon a day in the life of the employee who will read the document.
4. Fostering Communication among Co-workers
If there is no effective communication in an organization, conflicts come up. Top managers therefore use communication as a strategy to manage conflicts. Managers need to apply people skills, so as to motivate their workers too. They become more involved with the people and by so doing earn respect from them. They inspire them and listen to their ideas and concerns.
Top managers do not just look to communicate with their workers. They look to have effective communication with them. Effective communication is where the message you intended to pass on is the one that gets to them in the end. So, the employees understand the message and immediately implement it. Here are some requirements:
- Seek honest feedback always – it is important to find out what others think before telling them what you think. Managers may not always hear pleasant things. However, since it gives them a foundation from which they know what to do, it is an important first step. The manager can start by asking his supervisors, colleagues and staff their opinion on his/her communication skills. He can also get hat feedback while ensuring anonymity.
- Understand your Audience – a manager needs to understand that his/her audience differs from time to time. Therefore, he/she should customize the message to fit the particular audience he/she is addressing at the moment. Different communication styles are used for different audiences.
- Crisis times are normally critical times – some critical times when it is important to communicate effectively are times like when there is a merger or a major layoff. Such times may call for one-on-one meetings and staff updates. They are key to keep people in the loop.
5. Evaluating and Understanding the Emotional Responses of the People
When someone has a strong emotional response to something, he/she falls back to his/her default setting. Reasoning in the heat of the moment may prove very hard to do. The person may not be rational. He/she may utter words that they do not mean at all and may even regret later. As a manager, in that situation, you cannot try to argue with the person. Instead, wait for the anger or the strong emotion to dissipate before trying to communicate with them. Emotionally triggered people are not easy to reason with.
Employees find it difficult to control their emotions due to conflict in the office. This can wreak havoc in the workplace. It can even result in overreactions all around. Top managers cannot ignore the problems. They won’t go away on their own. besides, the employee/employees will most likely focus more on what is upsetting them than on the work. The productivity of others may also get affected. A top manager needs to pay close attention to find the emotional signals that employees are giving him/her. They can be body language or facial expressions. He/she should listen and empathize with the employee who is hurt. Then, it is time to find out what triggered them and manage the situation
6. Listening to Everyone and Hearing their Views
Are there people who like being wrong? Not really. Therefore, no one wants to hear another person telling them that they are wrong. You may argue on the one hand that people should be gracious enough to accept that they may not always be right. On the other hand, however, do not expect everyone to be as enlightened about the intricacies of conflict as you are. One of the main things that cause conflicts is when a party tells the other that they are wrong. Then, the accused person becomes defensive. Should this be the situation in your organization, nip it in the bud.
Top managers should listen to everyone’s side of the story and do not judge. Then resolve the issue objectively, with a good understanding of where everyone is coming from. Instead of imposing their influence and rank, top managers respect the unique differences and points of view. This also helps them to get to understand the conflict in the future. The workplace is becoming more generationally and culturally diverse. This is making managing conflict become more complex. Listening to everyone and respecting their differences is therefore very important. Top managers understand that each employee represents an opportunity for professional growth and development.
7. Having Written Policies and Definitions on Dispute Resolution Mechanisms
Top managers have written policies and definitions on dispute mechanisms that are available in the organization. These policies should be clear to the managers and workforce alike. The policies need to be specific. They should state the scope and limitations of every method’s terms. The top managers who implement systems through which parties can resolve conflict in a company will also have incentives for the employees. This will help them avoid being involved in costly and time-consuming external litigation.
When there is a policy on the grievance system in an organization, the employees are also motivated. This is because they feel that they have options for pursuing conflict resolution should it occur. The policy should not be complex and cumbersome.
Here are steps top managers can use to create powerful and highly effective conflict management systems:
- Understanding the real cost of conflict. Once it is understood, build a business case for resolutions.
- Having one resolution policy to replace the traditional grievance and bullying policy.
- Aligning the core values of the organization
- Communicating and engaging with the employees.
- Using the “Resolution Triage Assessment”
- Promoting early meetings for resolutions.
- Using facilitated conversations more. i.e having a co-facilitation model where the manager and the union pair up to facilitate a conversation.
- Promoting Mediation and developing a mediation scheme.
- Measuring the impact of the resolution.
8. Confronting the Tension
Top managers often do the things that other people don’t like doing. Managing conflict is one such thing. They confront the tension heads on. They do not wait but rather activate their leadership to manage the conflict before circumstances get out of hand. Conflict often yields an emotional state of mind. The state may make it more difficult to manage. Therefore, the manager needs to confront it and not allow it to fester because of not addressing it when it first became apparent.
Effective top managers possess the wisdom to confront and diffuse tension. Perception and reality are different. Sometimes, people fail to confront obvious situations because they let other points of view distort what they believe to be true. Like any other adversity, conflict needs to be acted upon at the right time. A manager should not let those around him/her take the calculated risks that he/she is hesitant to take. He/she should trust himself to confront the tension.
A top manager sees opportunities that others do not see. For example, conflict can enable the business to grow. It can also help those involved to grow professionally. Top managers are aware that great relationships with employees, clients, and external partners begin when there is tension. They, therefore, embrace it and deal with it. The manager also gets to mature more in leadership and can lead others through adverse circumstances in the future.
Since conflicts are bound to occur at the workplace, they can escalate and lower productivity if not managed. Hence, they should be managed properly and at the right time. These strategies are very effective in managing and resolving conflicts in the workplace. Although managing conflicts can be challenging, managers can make it easier by capitalizing on these strategies. If you want your business to thrive, you need to be knowledgeable about managing conflict. This is because conflict will occur at your workplace from time to time. As a manager, your ability to resolve them quickly before they escalate will help to foster a peaceful workplace where employees can work optimally. So always be vigilant to know where or when conflict may arise. Once it occurs, ensure to manage it before it gets out of control.