Handling Conflict at Work

Some of you may look forward to resolving conflicts at work, confident that a well-handled discussion with your colleague(s) will do the trick. But many more of you probably don't look forward to tackling situations of conflict and disagreement among the people you work with, and may even avoid trying to resolve conflicts altogether so little confidence do you have that a positive outcome will ensue from the dialogue.

Go to the profile of Aryanne Oade
Nov 10, 2017
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Some of you will be able to point to occasions when the results of a well handled disagreement or conflict were productive for your team or organisation.  Iron does sharpen iron, and a resolved disagreement or conflict can bring about improved processes, innovations for customers, better dialogue between colleagues, enhanced products and services, and more productive and efficient ways of working. 

But most of you will also be able to point to situations in which conflict and disagreement splintered your work groups, fractured relationships and resulted in a situation in which no effective resolution to the underlying issues could be found. Maybe certain issues in your team or workplace have never been resolved, and consequently there is unfinished business sitting between people in your team, or between you and some of your colleagues, circumstances which make life awkward, create discomfort, hinder productivity and reduce service levels. 

So why might some conflicts be more difficult to resolve than others?  In my view it is usually because at least one of the parties sets their will against resolution of the issues.  Let's take a look at some of the key factors that might be playing out in unresolved conflicts in your workplace.  You might like to select one unresolved conflict that affects you and consider it afresh in the light of the following factors.  Take a mental step back from the conflict and decide which of the following elements is in play in regard to the unresolved issues:

  • Is the conflict about disagreements over goals? In other words, do the different parties (you included) want to achieve different and apparently incompatible goals?

  • Is the conflict about what constitutes a fact as opposed to an opinion?  In other words, do the different parties want to give different weight to different factors in the situation?

Let's consider these two elements considering two more.  In either of these cases, the issues are actually resolvable, even if they might not seem so.  It will take some hard work, but an unresolved conflict which is about either or both of these bullets can be resolved.  Colleagues who might not find it easy to deal with one another will have to sit down and talk it through. They'll need to be prepared to put their views on the table in a non-judgmental fashion, listen to other perspectives, seek to understand those perspectives, ask questions to clarify what they don't understand and find a way forward.  Some compromising will be needed, some effort and some thinking. But it is do-able.

What other factors might be affecting the example of an unresolved conflict which you are considering? Here are two more:

  • Is the conflict to do with the key players (you included) having different personal values? In other words, do you value different things such as generating momentum and getting things done quickly as opposed to ensuring quality and mitigating risk by taking the time to plan?
  • Is the conflict to do with the key players having different ideas about which processes, procedures, strategies and tactics are needed? In other words, might they want to achieve the same outcomes but want to approach those outcomes in different ways?

If the answer is yes to either of these two bullets, then again, in either case, the issues can be resolved.  It will mean that the people at the heart of the unresolved conflict will need to talk through their differences, and have the courage to re-examine their own personal values and preferences. They will need to concede some points in order to hold sway on other, but progress can be made even from apparently entrenched positions.

In some more complex cases, the issues may involve all four sets of bullet points.  These issues will require time and application to resolve, but they can be resolved. Where there is a will there is a way.


Go to the profile of Aryanne Oade

Aryanne Oade

chartered psychologist, executive coach and best selling author, Oade Associates Ltd

I have over twenty five years experience working as a business psychologist and executive coach. I am passionate about enabling clients to find greater levels of self-confidence, to discover inner resources they didn't know they had, and to locate the self-belief they need to build a future they are passionate about. I coach clients debilitated by workplace bullying to re-discover their energy and enthusiasm, and clients who work in complex political and adversarial environments to build influence and protect themselves despite these challenges. I work with clients in leadership roles to develop the emotional intelligence and people-handling skills they need to succeed. Clients on my year-long Bespoke Coaching Programme transform their lives, learn to use influential behaviour every day, and turn areas in which they feel underpowered into areas of skill. My programmes combine business psychology and professional acting, a combination which enables clients to make rapid progress against their coaching goals and demonstrate sustained behaviour change. I have written a suite of six easy-to-read, insightful books on handling complex workplace dynamics, plus a niche book for coaches. My last book was 'Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying: Become Bully-Proof and Regain Control of Your Life' (Flourish 2015) which was a best-seller and won awards. Since setting up my coaching and development business in 1994, I have worked with over forty-five client organisations in fourteen sectors based in the UK, Europe and North America. I hope you find these posts and pdfs useful. For instant access to additional valuable written and audio downloads visit www.oadeassociates.com/downloads

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