Today is the day that many of us reflect on the year we’ve had, and based on those reflections, we make resolutions for the New Year. They may be the same resolutions we make every year, such as the need to exercise more, maintain a better work-life balance, or travel to that unusual destination we’ve been dreaming of. In addition, we often make resolutions regarding our wish to have better relationships, either at work or at home or both. This may relate to a difficult relationship we have with a boss or a work colleague that is causing us to feel anxious and disengaged, or relationships with family and friends that make us feel stressed.
As a workplace mediator, I know how important it is for staff members to have good relationships at work, and this is intricately linked to their confidence and skill levels to adequately manage workplace conflict. Unresolved workplace conflict places a huge burden on the individuals involved, as well as the organisation as a whole. We hear, on a daily basis, about the sleepless nights, the feelings of frustration, demoralisation and disengagement that is caused by workplace conflict. In cases where conflict results in formal process, people tell us of extreme feelings of anxiety, vulnerability and depression. There is also the huge financial cost of conflict to the organisation.
We know that managing conflict isn’t easy. But there are some basic “conflict resolutions” that you can make that will help you to make the New Year healthier and more productive.
- Don’t avoid conflict. If left to fester, conflict is likely to escalate. Remember this when you make the decision not to address an issue because you don’t feel confident enough to face it. If you need support, speak to someone about it, but conflict avoidance should not be your preferred route. We know from experience that the thought of the conversation is usually more difficult that the reality of it.
- Nip conflict in the bud. Don’t wait for things to escalate before you have those courageous and difficult conversations. The earlier you address issues, the more likely you are to resolve them informally and amicably.
- Recognise the early warning signs of conflict. Most of us know when a conflict is brewing, but most of us don’t feel confident enough to address it. Learn to look out for and recognise the early warning signs of conflict – lateness, disengagement, changes in behavior or attitude, etc. – and then speak to the person to find out what is going on.
- Don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions. The only way to know why someone is behaving in a certain way is to ask them. The assumptions we make about other people are often erroneous and may even exacerbate the conflict.
- Take a conflict management or workplace mediation course. By attending such a course, you will gain the confidence and the skills to manage workplace conflict more effectively.
- Before going down the formal route, try workplace mediation. We know, and you know, that formal process rarely if ever results in the resolution of a conflict. Instead, formal process often leads to parties being more entrenched and less loyal to the organisation. Before choosing to go down a formal process, engage the support of an experienced workplace mediator who will be able to skillfully and impartially facilitate an honest and confidential conversation between the parties who are in conflict.
We wish you a healthy and happy 2016.