This is how to address conflict at work

Woman with boxing glove hitting man in the face

We all have conflict every day at work, at home and in life.  Did you ever stop to think that conflict stems from one of the three broad areas relating to task, relationship and values?  This article takes a look at all three and offers you some ideas to help.  There are other ways that can be used to classify conflict, but for the purposes of this article these three headings offer one way to explore the topic.

 

Task Conflict

 

At work task conflict relates to specific assignments.  For example, in today’s world with many deadlines and tasks it can often feel overwhelming. We feel like we have simply to many tasks to work on. There is not enough time, trying to balance work with family and other activities. Looking at this more broadly, economics is the study of balancing unlimited wants with limited resources. That concept relates well to task conflict. There are only 24-hours in a day.  There is only so much one can do in any given day. That includes at work, home and life.  Let’s focus on work.

Focusing on tasks at work there can be many complex issues.

For example, competition, seniority, work status, various budgets, history, etc. These can very well compete with each other.  Finding a balance regarding tasks may mean someone receives a task that no one wants to do. On the other hand there are tasks that several may want to do. So how does a leader balance task conflict?

 

This is what good managers and leaders do

 

Since managers wear all sorts of hats, they have to be mediators, facilitators and negotiators among other things.  As a good leader the manager may have a given task to assign. Depending on the task this may be very straightforward. Other times this can be more complex. For example, who receives the best or worst assignments?  Who will attend specific training?  Who will be attending a specific conference? The way these questions are approached says a lot about the leader. As a starting point listen to the employees.

 

Understand the interests of the employees

 

What are their interests for both the short term and in the long term? 

What is going on in their lives at work and outside of work. 

Active listening means digging deeper to truly understand. Why is this necessary?

Many times, management makes decisions believing them to be in the best interest of the employee. However, without having discussed the situation with the employee, it may not be possible to truly understand underlying interests.  That is why good managers and leaders develop a good repour ahead of time. In that way when the topic comes up regarding a task, it is possible to have an open and frank discussion related to the task. Working together fosters an environment of inclusion and engagement.  

Collaboration is the key. Collaboration incorporates really connecting with others on a deeper level. It also means to actively listen.  These first two elements of The Collaboration Effect ® are the key to understanding interests associated with any task.  These are connecting relationships and actively listening.  If these two areas are addressed first the other party is far more likely to be receptive to listening to what ever it is you may want to present.

Now let’s take a look at relationships a little deeper.

 

Relationships

 

Think of all of the underlying secondary dimensions of diversity related to such areas as religious beliefs, nationality, geographic location, marital status, parental status, education, income, work background, military experience etc.  Also consider the tertiary dimensions of diversity such as personality, learning style, and professional orientation. There is a lot to consider here. As a manager or leader, it is important to really get to know the person. This is very important if you want to truly develop a relationship with someone. At work there is an opportunity to meet up with folks with many different backgrounds and experiences.

When there are differences consider bridging the gap informally. 

On an informal level what about having a cup of coffee or tea?  Would lunch be more appropriate?  Is there another venue outside of work to bond professionally? When potential conflicts arise, consider de-escalating the situation by having an informal private conversation to learn more about the other party. Be there first to listen. 

If it works after truly listening, bring up the potential source of conflict in neutral terms.  Present it from the other person’s point of view. In our society we see continuous interactions that are hostile, intimidating and forceful on social media. Resist the reptilian brain response to retaliate and condemn. Instead, calm your own fire. Remain focused on the problem. Demonstrate caring, consideration and empathy. Chances are the other person will respond in kind. If the situation gets worse, know that you truly tried.  At that point a possible approach may be to raise the issue in management.

 

Values

 

Research has shown that it is better to concentrate on values rather than focus on beliefs when trying to connect with others.

Explore what that you may have in common with the other party. 

When there are disputes related to values these can lead to distrust, negativism, withdrawing, and subterfuge.  Buy in is lost. We tend to see the world initially as right and wrong. When value lines are crossed, it is hard to work to find common ground.

For example, say the firm you work for takes on a client that in the news has been clearly demonized. An example may be a PR firm in Hong Kong that has been asked by the government to make a positive spin on the current situation. The PR firm may want to consider their existing clients and how they may perceive the engagement as well as their existing value system. What if the firm took on the Chinese government as a client? What are the ramifications in the current world climate?

In this type of situation there may not be buy into the decision ethically by employees if the firm were to accept the Chinese government as a client.  The best that can be hoped for in this type of situation is for an acceptance of the decision. Acceptance of the decision is a “value neutral” decision.  It may be possible for employees that disagree with the decision to accept the decision by relating to each other through shared values. Explore values and look for ways to connect to each other. The focus may be on big picture items where both parties agree.  For example, human rights, peaceful resolutions, avoiding war, reconciliation of differences, holistic approaches, sustainability, reducing waste, overcoming poverty.  By searching for areas where there is agreement, it may be possible to address the conflict in neutral terms.

If there is a real moral conflict the decision may be for the employee to leave the organization over the questionable decision.   Keep that in mind.  Ask how would shareholders, stakeholders, customer, vendors and employees view the decision. Then consider weighing the decision more broadly before accepting a value based concern.

In conclusion, next time you foresee or you are in a conflict, consider the type and see if the suggestions make here may help you with your situation.

 

About the author

 

Mike is a professional speaker, negotiator and mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including Business Valuations and the IRS: Five Books in One, The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]