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7 Ways to Curb Conflict in the Workplace

7 Easy Ways to Curb Conflict In The Workplace

The effects of conflict in the workplace are widespread and costly. It can lead to decreased productivity, increased stress among employees, reduced performance, high turnover rate, absenteeism and at its worst, violence and death.

Conflict in the workplace can arise for many reasons. It can occur when personalities clash or employees become frustrated at their stagnant job functions. Other scenarios include the employee having unrealistic expectations of what their job position really is, or of being misunderstood in the workplace.

Conflict also arises because of values and goal differences in the company. The company may not have goals or not adequately express the goals and values to their employees. Conversely, the employee may have personal goals and values at odds with those of the company or another employee they come into regular contact with. Perhaps the most significant cause of conflict is when someone feels taken advantage of. This might happen when a perfectionist boss demands the same dedication and commitment from employees as he or she exhibits, but does not compensate them or acknowledge them for the their additional efforts.

Initially a dispute between one or more employees, without resolution, may cause an uncomfortable working environment, characterised by gossip and rumour, an awkward atmosphere and non-cooperation between team members. Without management intervention the conflict can readily approach crisis point. There may be an undercurrent of resentment, strong verbal clashes, highly emotional outbursts, shock resignations, even threats of physical violence. At this point the only option is to consider…how was this situation allowed to get so out of hand?

You need to ask at this point: how do you stop the conflict from happening in the first place? From our experience as workplace mediators, our advice on how to reduce and curb disputes in the workplace is the following:

1. Expect Conflict

A conflict-free workplace would be a fantastic place indeed. However it’s important to realise that it is just not going to happen, you cannot avoid conflict completely. You have to learn to expect that conflict in one form or another is going to arise at some point in the workplace. In fact conflict can be the sign of a healthy work place where people feel free to have different and varied ideas, but it is about how difference of opinion is handled. The key is what you do when there is a potential dispute on the horizon. This leads us to point 2.

2. Early intervention

Managers must get involved as early as possible and attempt to diffuse and resolve the dispute to the satisfaction of both people involved. Initially managers need to bring both parties together and discuss the situation. This is the single most important tip to successfully resolve conflicts: Do it now! It’s very tempting to wait for a conflict to blow over by itself, but it rarely does, in many cases it only gets worse with time.

It is very enticing to try and smooth things over and pretend everything is normal. That is the most common reason why conflicts at work escalate: Nobody does anything. It may be unpleasant to tackle the issue here and now but it rarely goes away on its own.

3. Open Communication & Listening

Managers need to look at communication skills, both in terms of how they communicate and how they’re teaching their employees to communicate with each other. This, of course, includes using ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ language. Owning your own feelings and your own communication is a much more effective way to communicate and even more, teaching your employees to communicate that way with others, goes a long way toward reducing conflict.

Some employees start conflict because they want to be heard. You can reduce the potential of that kind of conflict by creating an atmosphere of open communication within your company. Encourage managers and executives to leave their doors open to anyone with an issue. Open and effective communication can be a significant deterrent to workplace conflict.

The second part of communication is for managers to beef up their listening skills. Active listening involves things like actually trying to understand what the other person is saying, and then communicating to the other person that you do indeed understand what they’re saying by reflecting it back to them. A good idea is to hold training sessions on how to listen and communicate more effectively which Hawke Segal Mediation can provide.

4. Emotional Intelligence

The third factor to reducing conflict is a skill called ‘emotional intelligence.’ There are components to this but it basically means developing skills to be more effective by teaching people to combine both intelligence and emotions in the workplace. Dealing with employees as human beings with real lives is often overlooked in the busy workplace. People with high emotional intelligence can do this in a professional manner. Another aspect of this is knowing and being sensitive to how employees are experiencing you as a manager and by teaching managers to be sensitive as to how they’re coming across to others.

5. Create Consequences, consider coaching

One of the ways to curb conflict in the workplace is to create consequences. Setting up behavioural consequences to be used with truly uncooperative employees who are unwilling to change. There will be a few employees that just won’t change because they’re unwilling or unable. That means a manager must explain a consequence, which is an action or sanction that states to the employee the likely outcome of continuing problematic behaviour.

One consequence, which has a constructive outcome is coaching for certain staff. This is one on one coaching can assist employees to consider how conflict is affecting them and how they are contributing to the conflict as well as looking at practical ways to improve the situation at work. Hawke Segal Mediation offers coaching as one of it’s specialised services.

6. Initiate Mediation

Some workplace conflicts turn into long-lasting battles The conflict is so entrenched that it cannot be solved by the parties alone, this is very normal and just means that the parties in dispute can’t solve things alone at this point in time. If this is the case, it may be time to bring in some outside help in the form of a mediator. Sometimes all the parties need is an objective third party with no ties to the company to hear their side of the dispute and help facilitate restoring the working relationship between the two parties. They more be more willing to express themselves to an objective third party than to the HR Manager who is conducting the mediation, and who regularly plays golf or lunches with the CEO!

7. Dispute Resolution training

By developing conflict resolution skills and dispute resolution processes, you can help employees and managers resolve problems early and avoid major disruptions to your business. You can attend dispute resolution workshops and training, with topics such as:
• Managing difficult behaviours
• Negotiation
• Preventing bullying
• Mediation
• Having difficult conversations
• Managing groups.

Hawke Segal Mediation offers a conflict training program called Workplace Harmony or can tailor a training program for your organisation. Call Gloria or Saranne on 0413 520 603


Workplace Conflict – Tips from a Mediator

When conflict erupts in the workplace, why do we still get shocked and upset when it’s clear that conflict is normal, natural and an unavoidable part of life – whether at home, in our relationships or at work?

There’s no doubt that most people view conflict as a negative. Think about your past experience whether with your boss, spouse or friend. We normally get anxious, stressed or angry when a dispute breaks out with someone and want to lash out at them, blame them and at worst silently vow never talk to them again.

Most of us feel that we need to make sure that the other person knows we were right and they were wrong – the win/lose mentality. While everything is going along happily with someone, there’s no reason not to be thoughtful and respectful but a dispute or conflict can change all of that, the colleague we enjoyed working with may now seem like a foe that is making our everyday work life difficult and affecting our state of mind even outside of work hours.

What does this mean for business? Can businesses survive and operate with an eruption of conflict in their workplace? I believe the answer to this question very much depends on how the business deals with the emerging conflict. Unfortunately many aren’t always adept at this. Often you will find that managers completely shy away from situations with even a whiff of conflict, hoping that the conflict will somehow go away or resolve itself, they put pressure on employees to “play nice??? which in turn leads to more resentment.

There are those that try step in too soon and over manage the situation, which can also be detrimental. It’s much more important for managers to take the time and put real thought into developing a company culture that provides a framework for employees to work through disagreements in a positive way if and when they arise.

Lastly, there are those businesses that understand that not all conflict is negative and they are committed to opening the lines of communication, keen for an interaction that will hopefully resolve the issues at hand, because they recognise that its only when conflicts are brought out into the open that they have a chance of being dealt with successfully and that in fact difference in opinion can be healthy and breed new ideas and innovation.

As a mediator dealing with workplace disputes, I see firsthand how dialogue is the key factor in positive conflict resolution. For dialogue to occur, acknowledging the existence of the conflict is of course paramount. It is important that the needs of all parties are clearly defined and understood. Nothing that I have seen works more miracles than listening with empathy to the other person’s needs, thoughts and beliefs, some times it takes a formal mediation for each party to have the time and space to do this and to be and feel truly heard.
Part of this process means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes at that moment and then paraphrasing what they say to ensure that you have understood correctly. This is not an easy thing to do especially when you have strong divergent viewpoints, but it’s worth the effort because when people feel understood, their need to hold onto their strong position in the conflict can dissipate and a path toward understanding and agreement can be paved.

There clearly is an alternative to the win-lose mentality. It’s often been called “win-win??? or “no-lose??? because the goal is to find a solution to the conflict that meets the needs of both people. If the manager can understand that the conflict brings a prospect of positive change and is prepared to engage in the process of mutually searching for a solution that meets the needs of both people, it is really possible to resolve the conflict.

As a workplace mediator, it is common to be brought into the dispute when it has blown up and it is at the stage where the employee is threatening to walk or litigate. Very often we see that a manager has tried to mediate multiple points of view, wearing the mediator’s cap with no solvable outcome. Sometimes despite a manager’s good intentions, it is necessary to bring in professional mediators because it certainly is not easy trying to navigate across multiple types of personalities where each person is coming from a different place, especially if this is outside the manager’s specific area of expertise.

Hawke Segal Mediation provides a complimentary 15 minute consultation over the phone regarding how mediation may help resolve a dispute in your workplace – Call Saranne Segal or Gloria Hawke on 0413 520 603 or 0413 532 353.

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How to defuse workplace bullying through mediation

Mediation can play a key role in reducing fallout from workplace bullying. Source: Thinkstock

Workplace mediation has received increased attention recently as a successful method to resolve conflict in the workplace and as a preferred option to tribunals and litigation, writes Saranne Segal

Workplace bullying has recently been a hot topic due to the amendments to the Fair Work Act made in January 2014,which allows employees who believe they are being bullied to apply directly to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) and apply for an order to have the bullying cease.The FWC has 14 days after receiving an application to make an appropriate order. A breach of the order can lead to penalties of up to $51,000 for a company or $10,200 for an individual.

As a workplace mediator, it never fails to surprise me that many businesses are not prepared to deal with an outbreak of conflict between two or more employees.

This leads to the question: “When is someone being bullied at work?