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Resolving conflict at work

Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs


STRESSED.jpgWhether you employ 2 people or 200, the key word is "people" and their differing personalities, opinions, working styles and backgrounds that make tense situations a certainty. Handling conflict properly can prevent the loss of productivity and/or valuable employees.

While some competition or conflict at work can improve efficiency and creativity, it typically causes unnecessary distractions, increased absenteeism, lowered productivity and makes everyone else miserable.

As the boss, you must know how to prevent a minor squabble from turning into full-scale warfare by knowing when and how to get involved.

Prevent tension before it begins

To minimise the chance of in-house spats:

  • Make sure every employee knows exactly what his duties and responsibilities are
  • In a small business, resources, tools and equipment must usually be shared, so discourage territorialism
  • Encourage your employees to co-operate with each other where necessary, especially where teamwork is needed to get a job done
  • Learn some basic conflict resolution skills so you can identify potential problems before they arise
  • Don't allow one negative employee to put a damper on everyone else's attitude. Find the reason for the negativity and try to resolve it
  • Lastly, but one that many of us forget, is to acknowledge each person's value by giving praise and credit where it's due

Tips for dealing with workplace conflict

Conflict that is allowed to simmer can hurt your business, so don't ignore it and hope it will go away. It will cost you less (in the long-run) to deal with it.

  • Know when to get involved. The occasional tiff is normal and resolved without your intervention. Address situations that could explode into something more serious. Make sure that you stay calm and don't add fuel to the fire
  • Meet behind closed doors. Don't try to sort it out in front of other employees. You won't get an honest assessment of the situation and you don't want other staff members chiming in
  • Be prepared to listen. Ask each person to explain what he feels the problem is. Don't take sides or make assumptions
  • Focus on specific behaviour. Try to avoid personal attacks by urging each person to focus on specific examples of behaviour rather than generalising with "He never..." statements. Stick to the facts and avoid getting personal
  • Ask each person to repeat what they've heard so any misunderstandings can be cleared up
  • Identify solutions. Ask employees for their ideas for solving the problem. If there isn't an obvious solution, try to reach a compromise
  • Map out a plan of action. Get everyone involved to agree to the solution or compromise and make an action plan describing each person's role in resolving the issue
  • If no solution or compromise can be reached, get the parties to temporarily agree to disagree and to focus on the larger common goal, which is helping the organisation reach it goals (we're all adults, after all)

Managing conflict situations effectively can restore things to the usual chaos that is a small business and improve productivity. You can also get back to focussing on other areas that need your attention.

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