How to manage conflict in the workplace | EAPA-SA
What creates conflict in the workplace?


a. Lack of communication

Lack of communication in a workplace can create conflict in relationships among colleagues, supervisors and subordinates, and even employees and clients. The tension created in these working relationships can lead to low workplace morale and poor organisational results.

b. Emotions

“Emotions in the workplace play a large role in how an entire organisation communicates within itself and to the outside world. “Events at work have real emotional impact on participants. The consequences of emotional states in the workplace, both behavioural and attitudinal, have substantial significance for individuals, groups, and society”.[1] “Positive emotions in the workplace help employees obtain favourable outcomes including achievement, job enrichment and higher quality social context”.[2] “Negative emotions, such as fear, anger, stress, hostility, sadness, and guilt, however increase the predictability of workplace deviance,”,[3] and how the outside world views the organisation.” 1

Here are 8 tips for managing workplace conflict


1.Define acceptable behaviour

Firstly, it is important for EAP managers to establish clear guidelines for dealing with the trigger of potential conflict – such as sexual harassment or racist behaviour or comments. These guidelines should be clearly communicated to new employees.

2. Clarify what the problem is

When conflict arises find out what the source of the conflict is, and what stage the conflict has reached.  To do this, you need to discuss with each party what needs are not being met on both sides of the conflict. Continue to ask questions until you are certain you understand the issue.

3. Give both sides a voice

Arrange for a meeting and make sure that there is a mutual airing of differences and negative feelings. Both parties must feel that they are in a neutral and unbiased space.  The goal of this step is to get both parties to agree on the nature of their disagreement. It’s also important to use this opportunity to get to the root cause to ensure this conflict will not come up again.

4. Establish a common goal for both parties

Once the nature of the conflict is clear the next step is to have both parties agree on their desired outcome of the conflict. To accomplish this, discuss what each party would like to see happen and find a common starting point for a shared outcome. It could be as simple a common goal as both sides wanting to end the conflict.

5. Determine the barriers to the common goal

In this step of the process, each party voices what has brought them into conflict and talk about what problems may prevent a resolution. Understanding the possible problems that may be encountered allows for the EAP manager to proactively find solutions and have plans in place to handle any issues. For the situations that cannot be changed, discuss ways of getting around those road blocks.

6. Discuss ways for both parties to reach their common goal

For the EAP manager this involves listening and communicating, allowing the parties to brainstorm together. Both parties should work with each other to discuss ways that they can meet their common goal. Keep going until all the options are exhausted.

7. Establish the best way to resolve the conflict

 Both parties need to come to a conclusion on the best resolution. The EAP manager can start by identifying solutions that both parties may be able to live with. After a solution has been reached, lay out the responsibility that each party has in maintaining the solution.

8. Document the agreed resolution and determine the responsibility of each party

Get both parties to acknowledge the issues, and agree to move forward. It might be a good idea to get them to sign an agreement. Both sides need to own their responsibility in the resolution of the conflict and express out loud what they have agreed to do.

After the conflict is resolved

Ensure open communication channels: Ensure that relevant parties meet regularly to discuss any uncomfortable situations or problems that could give rise to future conflict.

Follow-up: Diarise to follow-up down the line, say three months after the initial meeting. Check whether the issues remain resolved, and whether further mediation is required.

View conflict as opportunity: Hidden within every conflict is the potential for a valuable teaching or learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is the potential for growth and development. When addressed properly conflict resolution can give rise to innovation and learning, and smart managers will look for the upside.

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