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05/31 2016

Is Conflict at Work Manageable?

Nothing like conflict to bring out the best — and worst — in employees.

At its best, conflict can result in new — and better — ideas being implemented in the workplace.  At its worst, conflict can result in employees who behave like toddlers towards each other.

So, what is a manager to do when faced with conflict in the workplace?   One of the first steps to be undertaken is to uncover the cause of the conflict.   As pointed out by Roberta Matuson in the on-line edition of Fast Company, some common causes for conflict might include:

  • Lack of clarity — conflict can arise when boundaries are not clearly defined.  Well-defined job descriptions, as well as clearly defined reporting relationships and scopes of responsibility, can help minimize this source of conflict.
  • Limited resources — today’s organizations are run with lean resources, so this is also a common source of conflict.   As a manager, try to determine if employees have adequate resources to do their work, and try to include them in the resource allocation process, if possible.
  • Conflicts of interest — employees can begin pursuing individual goals at the expense of corporate goals.  As a manager, remind each employee about how their personal goals relate to corporate strategic objectives.
  • Poor communication — lack of proper communication is a common source of conflict — and this is very common when one manager asks another person to convey information that they might better have communicated themselves.  As a manager, take steps to ensure over-communication in your work group, as opposed to under-communication.
  • Power struggles — recognize that, at times, the conflict you see on the surface may be reflective of deeper (and less easily observed) issues.  As a manager, you may need to get to the root of these underlying issues.

While many managers simply wait and hope that conflict will resolve itself, in more cases that not the manager needs to become actively involved to resolve the situation.  When involving themselves, managers need to position themselves as mediators (not as judges), and are often best served by meeting with each individual separately to gain additional insight.   Ask each individual about how they would like to see the situation handled, and the ideal outcome that they would like to see.  Then work to try and find win-win solutions for all parties.

Finally, managers are encouraged to try to teach — and reinforce — conflict management techniques in the workplace as a way of proactively dealing with conflict in their work group.   This can help ensure that conflicts are handled in a positive manner – and actually result in workplace improvement.

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