As kids, recess was the best time of the school day. We got to get out of classes and play in the playground with our friends; we were free to scream, run around and do whatever we wanted short of eating dirt, that is. While we had the time of our lives, I’m pretty sure that it was not the case for our teachers and caretakers. Kids are hyperactive angels with no control of their emotions, be it happiness, sadness, disappointment or even anger. I’m sure that our teachers didn’t have fun breaking apart fights and playing the mediator. Now that we’re all grown up and have better control of our emotions, it doesn’t mean that the child in us has been buried. We still fight, be it at work or elsewhere. The only difference is that the role of a mediator has switched from the teacher to the HR of the company. But that’s all right, we’re human and it is to be expected. Conflicts are very common. What’s important to realize is that conflict resolution should be just as common in the workplace. No need to worry though, you’ll become a pro at it over time with enough experience. But rather than waiting for life to make you smarter, here are a few tips on conflict resolution strategies to make your life easier.
Conflict is any disagreement, dispute or misunderstanding that creates friction between two or more individuals. If not handled properly, it can have far-reaching effects at work. Conflict resolution is the process by which the parties involved bring an end to the conflict.
The dispute between two individuals is seldom confined to just them, it usually spills forth and drags other unsuspecting employees into its midst. If allowed to continue for long, it could have an adverse effect on the office environment. Battle lines may be drawn with the employees choosing sides and the hostile environment is hardly going to benefit the organization. The time wasted on gossiping, the loss in productivity, the potential for sabotage, absenteeism and in some cases even quitting are reasons enough for the HR to step in. Sometimes, ignoring minor issues is the best course of action but most of the time the underlying issue is far more complicated. Workplace conflicts should not be ignored. They should be swiftly handled. In fact, healthy conflict should be encouraged in the workplace. It facilitates creativity and innovation and it is always better to address conflict even though it makes most people uncomfortable. Bottling it up will lead to some pretty spectacular showdowns (not!).
TIPS TO HANDLE CONFLICT AT THE WORKPLACE
- Open environment: Encourage an environment where employees are free to express their differing opinions and ideas. This facilitates creativity and innovation. Innovation is the way forward. Conflicts are common when you have a diverse team. Employees should be encouraged to address their conflicts in a healthy way and to not keep it bottled up. This will nip the problem in the bud.
- Don’t ignore the issue: The absolute worst thing to do is to ignore the issue and hope that it goes away on its own. Fat chance of that happening. It will just fester and might cause irrevocable damage. The best thing to do is to find a mediator whom the concerned parties trust and get them to resolve the conflict through compromise and understanding.
- Be open-minded and understand the underlying issue: As the mediator, enter the room without any preconceived notions or judgements. Try to get to the crux of the problem and understand the real issue at hand. Meet both the parties at the same time and not separately. Be impartial and let both of them have their say without interruptions. Set the ground rules that the interaction will be respectful and that there is no winning or losing involved. The whole purpose is to amicably settle the issue keeping in mind the job at hand.
- Ensure accountability: Make it clear at the outset that your job is just to facilitate and not to make the decisions. Holding employees accountable for conflict resolution is the best approach as the mutually agreed upon decision will carry more weight. Let both parties be allowed to put forth their views on the matter. Most of the time, the root cause is lack of proper communication and misinterpretation. This will clear the air and help them to understand the other’s perspective. Encourage them to be creative and to brainstorm solutions. The focus should be on a compromise such that both parties are satisfied with the outcome.
- It is not sufficient to just resolve the issue and leave it at that. You need to follow-up and ensure that the solution is being implemented and that there are no hard feelings. Ensure that there are no lingering feelings of animosity and all is well at the work front. If the issue is not resolved you may need to bring in an external mediator and come up with a new course of action.
No matter how much growing up we do, we are still the same person. The human thought process is unique and interesting but there’s still a logic to it that isn’t very hard to figure out. The HR can be likened to the school counselor who is tasked with the well-being of the kids. You come across different kinds of kids but they are still kids who need a little guidance every now and then!
I’m sure all you HR personnel have come across some pretty interesting cases and there’s always something to be learnt from sharing our experiences. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!