Effective Conflict Resolution at Work
We all experience countless conflicts and miscommunications during our lives, which may affect us deeply. It is nearly impossible today to grow up in a family, work at a job, or have relationships without experiencing multiple conflicts. In addition to this, when working in the trade industry we often come across unique pressures that can affect our tolerance levels. If our tolerance level is low, we are quick to react to situations we normally would have the patience for.
For many of us, the principal source of conflict in our lives is the people we work with. Conflict often arises due to difficulties between workers and supervisors, unions and management, competing departments, and the difficult behaviour of co-workers. We pay a heavy price for these conflicts, not only individually but also organisationally in the form of reduced productivity, poor morale (quite often leading to sick leave), wasted time and resources, lost customers, gossip and rumours, and reduced opportunities for teamwork, synergy, learning and change.
The fantastic thing about conflict, though, is that it is completely resolvable. Every conflict that you experience at work presents you with an opportunity to improve the situation, release yourself from an impasse and increase the satisfaction of your co-workers and customers.
Working in the trades involves additional strains, such as weather, dust, toxic fumes, noise, heights, sharp tools, cramped spaces, high voltage lines and remote sites.
Sources of conflict:
The two sides to conflict
In general, conflict often has two faces that individuals, companies and relationships encounter:
- Destructive: can cause pain, extensive damage and sometimes loss.
- Constructive: often involves forgiveness, reconciliation and creative solutions.
Everyone is capable of seeing both faces of conflict, but many of us focus on the first, rather than the second. In order to move from destructive to constructive we need to ask ourselves how we are contributing to the conflict and decide to listen and learn from our challenger. The only way to be successful at this in the long term is to practise our skills and resist the temptation to slip into negative or destructive responses.
Defusing Anger and Facilitating Communication
The main goal of conflict resolution is to build mutual respect and encourage each other to resolve conflict in a united and co-operative way.
1. Make sure good relationships are a priority
Make sure you both understand how conflict may be a mutual problem and that it’s important to resolve it through respectful discussion and negotiation rather than aggression. Make it clear that it’s essential for you both to be able to work together happily, effectively and without resentment, so everyone can function effectively.
2. Separate people from problems
It’s important that you both understand each other’s underlying interests, needs, goals and concerns. So, keep it positive, keep the conversation courteous, and avoid blaming each other.
3. Listen first, talk second
Aim to listen empathetically to the other person’s point of view. Make sure they have finished talking before you speak, emphasise that you want to resolve the situation through discussion and negotiation, and ensure that you understand the problem fully by asking questions for further clarification.
Use “I” rather than “you” statements so that no one feels attacked. Keep the discussion focussed on work issues and leave personalities out of the discussion.
“I” versus “You” – Why does it matter?
Read the two statements below and notice how each one makes you feel. Which one would you rather be on the receiving end of?
“You are always late! You make this project impossible to finish”
“I feel frustrated and angry when I need to pick up the slack; I am depending on you to meet this project deadline.”
The “You” statement conveys blame, while the “I” statement explains the problem without blaming.
LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND
Most of us stop listening when we get angry; we only listen in order to argue back. The only way to settle a dispute is to actively listen to what the other person is saying. It doesn’t hurt to include a head nod or noise of agreement so the speaker knows you are listening.
4. Set out the facts
Outline the behaviours and actions that will and won’t be tolerated and aim to gain the other person’s agreement to change. This sounds like an obvious step, but different underlying needs, interests and goals can often cause people to perceive problems differently. You’ll need to agree on the problem that you are trying to solve before you can find a mutually acceptable solution, and you should agree on the facts that are relevant to the situation.
5. Explore options together
By this stage, you may have resolved the conflict. Congratulations! Both of you will likely understand the other person’s position better, and the most appropriate solution might be obvious.
By asking the other person to help generate solutions, you ensure that they feel included and that they’re more likely to be satisfied with the outcome. Brainstorm ideas and
- Conflict in the workplace can destroy good teams. If it’s not managed effectively, real and legitimate differences between people can quickly get out of control, which can result in a breakdown in communication.
- Use an open approach to resolving difficult conflict situations – be courteous and non-confrontational, focus on issues rather than the individual, and listen carefully to each person’s point of view.
- You’ll find that when people listen and explore the facts, issues and possible solutions carefully, you can often resolve conflict effectively!
Author – Candice Mace
AroFlo’s Mental Health Advisor
Customer Service & Technical Support
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