Occupational Stress A toxic work environment creates real distress. We help manage workplace conflict between employees’ or between employees and management by teaching both conflict resolution and communication skills as well as leadership and management skill building.
KEY PRINCIPLES IN RESOLVING WORK CONFLICT
occurs when two or more people’s differences escalate to a level that negatively affects or might affect productivity, quality service, morale or working relationships. Conflict has both an immediate and residual impact. Immediate effects might be obvious (like missing a deadline or losing a sale) or not so obvious (like absenteeism or lack of cooperation). Even after the conflict has been resolved, there can still be long-lasting residual effects on the working relationships of the parties involved, like passive/aggressive, underhanded behaviors.
Stages of Conflict
Personality conflicts in particular can start out slowly and gain momentum without your noticing them. Likewise, judgments, prejudices, and divergent opinions can escalate to discord and finally to arguments. Being aware of styles of resolution at any stage, a conflict can have an outcome of either discovery or damage.
If conflict is escalating but you do nothing to help resolve it, damage is the ultimate result. On the other hand, if at any stage of a conflict you appropriately guide people toward resolving it, you could lead them to a path of growth and development, personally and professionally.
Signs of Escalation
Rigidly hanging onto one’s own ideas
More telling and less asking
Discounting others’ ideas
Intolerant of others’ differences
Reluctance to listen
Raising tone of voice
Common goals replaced by personal goals
Lack of cooperation
Addressing Conflict with Key Principles
1. Maintain or enhance self-esteem:
Focus on facts; don’t attack or blame.
Acknowledge efforts toward solutions.
2. Listen and respond with empathy:
Don’t take sides.
Allow some “airtime.”
3. Ask for help and encourage involvement:
Seek first, offer later.
Establish ground rules.
4. Share thoughts, feelings, and rationale (to build trust):
Offer a broader perspective.
5. Provide support without removing responsibility (to build ownership):
Be clear about accountability.
Beware of quick fixes.
Know that support varies.
The interaction process, illustrated below, equips you with the skills you need to address or mediate resolution tactics.
1. OPEN by identifying the conflict and its impact:
Make procedural suggestions.
State purpose of discussion.
Check for understanding.
Identify importance (impact on/benefits to person, team, organization).
2. CLARIFY causes of the conflict:
Seek and share information about the situation/task.
Identify issues and concerns.
3. DEVELOP ideas for resolving the conflict:
Seek and discuss ideas.
Explore needed resources/support.
4. AGREE on plan for resolving the conflict:
Specify actions, including contingency plans, if appropriate.
Confirm how to measure progress.
5.CLOSE by summarizing and confirming confidence:
Highlight important features of plan.
Confirm confidence and commitment.
Discovery or Damage
While differences in age, gender, personality, etc., might contribute to misunderstandings and conflict, here “differences” mean differing ideas, goals, or points of view. Such differences can promote creativity and innovation.
Discussing opposing opinions and building on one another’s ideas can result in unique solutions and lead to positive, productive outcomes for the organization.
However, these same differences also can lead to conflict. Tight deadlines and heavy workloads can reduce people’s tolerance levels. Sometimes, processes force people into adversarial roles. They might have opposing goals or even the same goals, but different ways to achieve them.
The following signs indicate that differences are escalating in an unproductive way:
People spend more time telling than asking and listening; they discount others’ ideas.
People are not as tolerant of others’ differences as they once were.
People show some unwillingness to let go of their own ideas, and, as a result, struggle to overcome impasses and to develop solutions agreeable to everyone.
People start to look out for their individual interests and lose sight of mutual goals. They focus on what’s best for them and what’s “wrong” with others. For example, people might stick with their ideas no matter how much logical information is presented to the contrary, or they might raise unresolved resentments from previous conflicts. As a result, communication becomes guarded and calculated. An attitude that “we’re right and they’re wrong” starts to build and strains working relationships.
People are on their way to the next stage of conflict.
The following signs indicate that people are experiencing discord:
People are less willing to communicate in a solution-oriented manner.
People become defensive about their ideas and start to take sides.
Little two-way communication occurs; lack of cooperation is apparent.
Conflict is in full swing.
The issue that started it all might have slipped from focus and been replaced by the struggle to be heard, to be right, and to win.
Abrasive or mean comments can result in bruised feelings, friction, and ongoing rivalry.
Morale and work relationships deteriorate to the point that people engage in pettiness, confrontations, hostility, silent resignation, or even sabotage.
Productivity decreases noticeably, and the negative effects spread to people other than the conflicting parties.
The following signs indicate that people are experiencing dispute:
People care more about “winning” than about making the best business decisions.
People try to win allies, even those who weren’t originally involved in the conflict.
Common goals give way to personal goals.
The Interaction Process
When people interact, they generally have two kinds of needs:
Personal needs: to be understood and involved.
Practical needs: to reach a productive outcome.
Esteem • Empathy • Involvement • Share • Support
1. Conflict occurs because we have different maps of reality. 2. The meaning of communication is the response you get. 3. If you are not getting the response you want, change what you are doing or communicating.
Conflict: Using Tension Creatively
Conflict and Differences:
Point of view
Conflict positions and results:
You Lose/I Lose (Lose/Lose)
You Win/I Lose (Win/Lose)
You Lose/I Win (Lose/Win)
You Win/I Win (Win/Win)
Problem solving strategies:
State the problem
Outline your response
List your alternative
View the consequences
Evaluate your results
Who? Where do I do it?
What Happened? When do I do it?
Where it happened? How do I do it?
How it happened? How do I feel?
Why it happened? What do I want?
Reclassify the problem
The real problem is not…
The real problem is…
Who, where, what’s done that bothered you
When you respond, how/why it happened
The outcome factor
Aim for specific result
Be positive: express in terms of doing rather than not doing
See/hear/feel: use sensory data
Dovetail your desires and needs with others
Entertain short and long-term objectives
Write your wanted outcomes on line 1
Write the other person’s outcomes on line 2
Write your outcomes in sensory-based terms
Think creatively. Brainstorm ways to obtain both outcomes
Write dovetailed outcomes on last line
What would happen if…?
Four words to unblock conflict:
“What do you want?”
Conflict can be a positive force. Problems are solvable.
Possibilities and challenges are more fun than problems.
Most situations present more than two possible solutions.
Action planning is a way to manage conflict.
Anyone can learn to be creative and think of new possibilities.
Dovetailing leads to winning solutions.
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