First let us consider what is conflict?
It occurs when people individually or in groups are unable to obtain what they want and try to seek their own self-interest. These individuals or group of individuals may do so while being aware or their agenda or sometimes they may not be aware of it and are unconsciously acting in such a manner. And when two such groups clash, there is bound to be conflict.
Most of the time it is simply the clash of egos and person’s own sense of self esteem which gives rise to disagreements. These disagreements, if allowed to continue or if remain unresolved, lead to conflicts. Thus it is important to recognize the early symptoms of conflict and manage it accordingly. In fact, conflict management is one of the key challenges of any manager.
Keep the following points in mind while handling conflict in your team:
1. To be able to resolve conflicts or manage conflicts, it is important for managers and supervisors to recognize the beginning or the early signs of conflict. Pointers are available in form of body language, constant disagreements on all issues, strong public statements or backbiting, increasing lack of respect for rules and procedures, disinterest in discussion of progress or failures etc.
2. Do not ever allow disagreements to fester for a long time. Unresolved conflict threatens our self-esteem and people generally try to find someone who agrees with us. Thus we talk behind other people, trying to garner support for our actions and deeds. This instead of helping the cause, helps to alienate the person further and the issue becomes larger. Thus, conflict creates a sense of psychological distance between people, such as feelings of dislike, bitter antagonism, competition, alienation, and total disregard.
3. Keep communication channels open and encourage people to openly voice their disagreements and conflicts. We all know that disgruntled employees are not going to provide 100% on their jobs and productivity and morale is going to slip down.
4. Discuss and reach a consensus to resolve conflict amicably. Poor communication is one of the main causes of disagreements reaching full blown conflicts. By keeping their feelings under wrap, employees continue to suffer silently and are not able to focus on their work. If the problem is between two coworkers, then as a manager it is your duty to encourage them to resolve their disputes amicably by acting as a mediator.
5. Be impartial. The conflict management process is more likely to succeed if the two parties have respect for the mediator's integrity, impartiality, and ability. Otherwise one or the other will protest against favoritism or partisan behavior.
6. Learn to accept different points of view. No two people can always have same view of the situation. Accept it and encourage others to accept it as well.
7. Escalate. Sometimes, even after trying hard, you may not be able to sort the issue. In such cases, it is better to escalate the issue to your higher ups for them to take action.
The management gurus have often talked about constructive conflict as well. Conflict is constructive when it results in clarification of important problems and issues and the discussions bring about innovative solutions to problems. If conflict is taken in a positive manner and helps to bring people together to resolve issues by opening communication channels and building cooperation among people through learning more about each other, then it is desirable. It is the responsibility of the manger to turn conflict into an opportunity. But of course, not every conflict is an opportunity and some of them need to be resolved immediately with stern attitude.
But most of the time, we encounter destructive conflict at the workplace. The negative conflict is characterized by moving of focus from important activities , low morale or self-concept , groupings between the team and lack of cooperation and trust, leads to irresponsible and harmful behavior, such as fighting, name-calling etc.
Hence, it is important for managers, team leaders or HR people to take note of it early and solve it at the earliest.