Tension can be good, bad or neutral. Just because two people disagree doesn’t mean their disagreement is negative or poisonous; it can simply be a difference of opinion. However, left unaddressed and allowed to fester or grow, that neutral tension can become negative and possibly harmful. Then everyone, including the organization, suffers.
Whatever definition is used, we can agree that most people don’t like conflict. Indeed, they go out of their way to avoid it. In many cases, people view conflict in terms of arguments, anger, hurt feelings or being yelled at. And no one likes those situations. As a result, when conflict arises, most people will steer clear of it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, it is real, and it may become problematic.
So how should you deal with conflict in your workplace?
Address It Directly. When conflict arises, you need to raise the issue with the parties involved. You want to emphasize the need for your employees to address it. At that time, you can explain that negative feelings and thoughts can be handled in an appropriate manner that can actually make them positive and productive.
Listen to Both Sides. Have the participants share their viewpoints. Use active listening skills to restate their views, allow them to share their feelings; however, keep the conversation guided on the issues, not personal attacks. Speak with each party separately to gain their perspective on what the tension is all about. Make sure that along with any emotional information, you discuss specific facts or events that lead up to or inflame the situation.
Bring Both (All) Parties Together. Allow them to share their version of the events or issue. Often, this step will elicit issues or facts that the other party was unaware of. Brainstorm within the group for possible solutions to the problem. Keep an open forum for people to express their ideas
Find Common Ground. This is very important, because often each side has some concern the other party can agree with, and this will become the foundation that enables you to bridge the gap that separates the parties involved. Summarize the problem with the various view points of the issues. Getting the parties involved in framing the problem brings in a sense of teamwork.
Check Understanding Paraphrase what you hear the parties saying, and at various points ask each to state what he or she heard the other one say. Sometimes individuals are surprised when they hear their perspective articulated by someone else.
Engage Them in Problem Solving Invite the parties to suggest ways to reach agreement. Ask them to list their choices and the consequences of each.
Add Objectivity Focus on the issue, not on personalities. Reinterpret an attack on a person to focus it on the issue. This will help individuals not to be defensive. Where possible, turn to outside sources for guidance or data. Using objective resources can also sometimes make it possible for individuals to back down without feeling humiliated, by justifying a change in their opinion or their position because of new information.
Encourage Compromise. For the sake of working together, each person must be willing to give in a little. This step may take a while because the sides are already firmly entrenched in their own viewpoint or version of what should happen to resolve the issue. When this is accomplished, everyone will feel a little better.
Confront Negative Feelings. The feelings and thoughts that arose during the conflict stage have to be worked out. Unless this happens to everyone’s satisfaction, the problem may go away for the moment, but the hard feelings or thoughts will persist, and then a repeat conflict might occur.
Be Positive. Resolve to address future conflicts in a positive manner. The model, of course, would be similar to how this one is being resolved.
Decide on a solution. Find one that fits best for the organization and for the team as a whole, but do not expect to make everybody happy. However, the process may have brought a sense of understanding to all the parties.