Back to Basics: Managing Conflict and Relationship Issues | EAPA-SA

Conflict resolution is an almost daily requirement in the workplace and one that can either advance or disrupt the forward momentum of a leader, a team or even the entire organisation. If you want your employees to work well together, it is important to encourage positive, supportive, and respectful work relationships.

Being a leader primarily involves the responsibility of developing staff members and whole teams with a view to realising their full potential within the organisation, as well as generally contributing to an organisation at-large.  An important aspect in the development of individual potential is knowing how to recognise the difference between positive, dynamic tension between staff members and negative conflict.  It is about knowing how to harness the positive energy found in healthy tension without allowing this to degrade into disruptive interpersonal conflict. When conflict becomes mean spirited and starts including personal attacks, group morale will quickly deteriorate.

The primary causes of workplace conflict include:

  • ineffective communication leading to misunderstandings and misperceptions
  • a clash in values, such as perceived work ethic
  • stress
  • micromanagement
  • behaviour associated with bullying, which includes ostracism and spreading rumours

Many leaders would rather avoid dealing with negative tension in order to create the appearance of harmony. Unfortunately, in an attempt to “plaster over the cracks”, a leader may contribute to polarisation in the workforce and a hostile, unproductive work environment.  This is particularly what happens in a leader who is more concerned about being well-liked or avoiding a negative reputation – or who is hiding a lack of leadership ability.

Organisations should consider providing their managers and staff with assistance in building the following skills:

  • effective communication
  • conflict management and resolution
  • mediation

Get personal

The modern workplace represents growing diversity.  It is important to get to know the characteristics of each employee and gain an understanding of how they will influence the ethos and standards you are working to instil in your team or organisation.  Leaders who actively engage in learning more about the people in their team or organisation will find themselves dealing with less conflict.

  • Identify behavioural tendencies that trigger or provoke negative attitudes or hostility.
  • Establish boundaries and set rules of engagement that will help prevent conflict from arising.
  • Help your employees by coaching them when they cross the line or demonstrate a lack of self-awareness.

Be respectful

Respecting the differences in people can help you better understand how to manage conflict between them. Rather than pulling rank in imposing your standpoint or perspective respect the unique differences in your employees and make the effort to see things from their vantage point so you can better understand how to manage conflict and avoid it in the future.

Be definite

Leadership is often about being courageous in taking charge and resolving the problems that many other people shy away from.  Conflict resolution is one such problem.  As leaders it is vital to confront the tension head-on.  Do not hesitate in exercising your mandate as leader to address a conflict before the situation develops to a point where you are forced to take action of a nature that will adversely affect your employees or team. 1 + 2

Consider independent mediation
Independent mediation, has gained ground in recent years as a viable way to productively resolve workplace conflict. Mediation provides people with a safe, confidential forum in which they can be heard, and really hear the other person’s point of view, and then reach an agreement as to how their working relationship will go forward in a positive manner. 3

An organisation should look to engage an independent mediator or facilitator when:

  • the issues are long-standing
  • the issues are complex
  • there is a risk of an adverse action
  • the disputants request one
  • attempts at resolving the conflict have not worked