How many of you have to deal with conflict in the workplace? It is inevitable, especially if you are responsible for managing people. Clashing personalities, arguments or simple misunderstanding can all too quickly escalate to problems in the office. So, how to resolve this?
Approaches to managing team conflict
Managing conflict requires a strong sense of what is appropriate, good interpersonal skills and strong credibility in the workplace. Now consider some approaches you could adopt to managing team conflict.
Doing nothing – or not intervening – is a popular de facto approach, but should only be used as appropriate to the circumstances. For example, if you, as a manager, intervened in every conflict that arose, you would probably find yourself both unpopular and exhausted quite quickly. Most conflicts arise in the heat of the moment and subside quickly – a quick word may be adequate.
Too much intervention can also convey to staff that you do not trust your people, or are treating them like children. When or when not to intervene will always be a matter of judgement, but you might decide not to intervene if
- the situation is a sudden flare-up and appears to be a ‘one-off’
- the people involved in the conflict are of equal strength in terms of their personalities
- there are no obvious negative results from the conflict
Of course, just because you do not intervene on the first occasion does not mean that you should not intervene at all. You should monitor any conflict to ensure that it does not escalate.
Conflicts, although they can be positive, can easily and quickly deteriorate into situations where people are using tactics to sabotage the efforts of others. So once the conflict appears to be ongoing, then it’s time to intervene.
Making practical changes
Many conflicts which arise in the organisation are work related. Hence, some of the solutions are of a simple, practical nature. Practical measures include
- redistributing or increasing resources
- reorganising allocated work in order to decrease, increase, or vary the content of a team member’s workload
- increasing or changing the responsibility given to members of a team
- being clearer about standards, expectations and targets
- managing performance using clear guidelines
However, beware of setting the stage for increasing demands. The conflicting parties (and other observers) may perceive that you have rewarded their conflicting behaviour by allocating resources to them. This gives them an incentive to produce further conflicts in future, as they may see this as an effective method of getting what they want.
Also, try not to send a message unintentionally by giving one side a much better deal than the other. Any practical solution you come up with will be seen as a comment on how you viewed the rights and wrongs of the conflict.
You may be seen to be choosing sides, which may be fine if you actually do feel that the conflict had a clearly defined ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and that one side deserved to be rewarded more than the other. You should be clear in your own mind what messages your practical measure sends out to the conflicting parties and to the rest of the team.
The best form of practical measure is one that is satisfactorily worked out between yourself and both conflicting parties, and monitored by yourself.
Where egos and personalities are clashing at work, more subtle approaches are needed, and mediating is a very useful and popular one.
You must use the right skills in order to handle conflict. In most conflict situations, you will first speak to the parties involved individually and then bring them together in order to resolve the situation. Keep the following points in mind when speaking to the parties involved
- intervene quickly – once you have decided that intervention is necessary, do not procrastinate as the situation may only become more difficult to resolve
- stay cool, eg
– stay calmer than the situation around you
– talk more quietly than the rowing parties
– focus on behaviours, not personalities
– slow the pace of the discussion to remove the ‘heat’ from it
– let people cool off
– think before you speak
– do not allow yourself to be provoked
- actively listen
– ensure that you understand all the parties’ points of view. Make sure that you listen to what they have to say and take notes if necessary. Note that this is a high level skill and one that you may have to work hard on to master
- keep an open mind
– do not assume you know each person’s point of view. Ask them to explain their position and repeat it back to them to check your understanding
Section 3 Conflict management and complaints
- probe the issues
– try to find underlying causes. Is it work based, or one or two incidents that have arisen due to personality clashes, or is it a question of completely different attitudes and perceptions? Use open questions – these are questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, and usually start with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’ or ‘how’. Using questions where the answer is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will not be helpful unless you want to clarify a point. Use follow-up questions such as ‘And when did this first happen?’
- neutralise irrelevant comment or unfair tactics
– identify them and let the perpetrator know that you have identified them. Appeal to reason – ‘yes, you are different, but you still have to work together’
- ensure that both sides receive equal time to speak
– although one or the other may choose not to use their full
allocation, ensure that both sides speak for longer than you do. Aim for a 40/40/20 split
© MOL 2016
It is clear that managing conflict takes a skills set all of its own. But it is one that is vital for the smooth, effective running of any agency office.
This subject is just one of many management subjects explored in the National Federation of Property Professionals Awarding Body level 4 certificate qualification. Other areas include relationship based conflict, dealing with difficult people and dealing with customer complaints.
If you would like further information about this, call MOL on 0345 203 2103 or visit the website at www.mollearn.com/property