Understanding Conflict Management in the Workplace
Identify causes of conflict at work
“Interpersonal conflict occurs between two or more persons when attitudes, motives, values, expectations or activities are incompatible and if those people perceive themselves to be in disagreement.” – Hunt 1982
It is safe to assume that in every workplace you are always going to get some kind of conflict from within. Conflict in the workplace can be caused by issues from groups, individuals or the organisation itself. It’s in everyone’s best interests to stop conflict as early as possible before a situation escalates.
Some potential causes of conflict are:
1. Power and Ego
2. Clashes of personality
3. When people have contrasting values and beliefs
5. Underlying stress and tension
6. Unresolved disagreements
7. A breach of faith or trust between individuals
Let’s look at a couple of the above examples.
Power and ego can cause major conflicts in the workplace due to people having different leadership styles e.g. authoritarian or democratic. Not all employees respond well to an authoritarian approach where they are told what to do as opposed to being able to have an input into how their jobs are done. This can cause them to feel demoralised and not appreciated meaning they no longer enjoy their jobs and the organisation do not get the best work out of them. Recent conflict at my workplace occurred when the door handle of one of our fork trucks kept getting broken and needed to be replaced hence causing unnecessary expense to the organisation. It was decided by myself that in order to stop this happening the door would be removed for a short period of time.
This caused conflict because some members of the team felt that they were being punished for other peoples actions and couldn’t understand why it was not discussed with themselves first. and belief can also cause conflict in our place of work when members of management at TATA let us know their expectations in our morning meetings. Conflict can occur when they set us daily tonnage targets which in our opinion are sometimes impossible to meet. Sometimes these targets are unrealistic due to machinery needing maintenance or there not being enough manpower to be able to get the coils despatched to clients. Management are sometimes not willing to listen to these problems because they believe they should be sorted quickly so the targets can be reached. This cannot always happen leading to conflict between them and Pd Ports.
A breach of faith or trust between individuals also occurred recently when a member of the team was asked to do some overtime so tonnage targets could be met. When speaking to the individual I learnt that they still hadn’t received payment for the last lot of overtime they completed and so they were no longer willing to do any overtime because trust had broken down and they believed theyd be working the extra hours without getting paid. We will be looking at these examples in more detail later on.
Describe the stages in the development of conflict
Once conflict has started it can sometimes go through several stages before it is resolved. Below is a diagram showing the different stages conflict can go through, although they do not always occur in a set order. Sometimes conflict cannot be resolved and only lies dormant until the problem occurs again.
This happens when individuals, groups or organizations have differences that bother one or the other. However these differences are not enough for either party to act to try and change the situation. For example when working in close proximity with someone certain behaviours can annoy another person with a different kind of personality to them. It is sometimes better to keep quiet and try and ignore this rather than get into confrontation. The seeds of this conflict might then exist for long periods of time before another party becomes aware of it.
If the differences between the individuals, groups or organisations are strong enough then a “triggering event” can cause the emergence stage of conflict. The differences are enough to be acted upon but may erupt in low level conflict. If the low level conflict is seen as some form of threat then this can cause dormant issues to be aroused resulting in the next level of conflict occurring.
This stage happens when the intensity of a conflict is increased and tactics used in pursuing the conflict can become more severe. Going back to the example used in latent conflict of working in close proximity with someone, if personalities continue to clash then the conflict can escalate by parties bringing in other individuals to back up there ideas and arguments. This can lead to individuals feeling ganged up on and the conflict continues to escalate.
A stalemate is a situation in which neither side can win, but neither side wants to back down or accept loss. This can happen due to a number of reasons for example when group members no longer show solidarity and support for the particular conflict or costs of the conflict become too great for the conflict to continue. This then means all parties involved in the conflict then accept the differences cannot really be resolved although no one is really happy with the situation.
De-escalation / Negotiation
As conflicts cannot continue to escalate eventually they have to reverse direction meaning the differences have been resolved or in the result of stalemate differences end up being forgotten or lying dormant. De-escalation also occurs when compromises are made resulting in all parties feeling happier.
This stage is when a conflict has come to an end. When underlying causes of disputes are settled the conflict may be resolved forever but in some cases are only resolved for a certain period of time. This may be because a difference of opinion may remain and is resolved for the time being but will develop again if the difference again becomes significant.
Post-Conflict Peace Building
This is the process when individuals, groups or the organization tries to prevent the recurrence of the conflict by addressing the root causes and the effects of conflict through reconciliation. Some organizations hold team building events. This works well with people working in close proximity with each other helping them to realise that while there may be a clash of personality they can in fact work well together as a team sometimes managing to stop latent conflict occurring.
Explain the effects of conflict on individual and team performance at work
If conflict has arisen in the workplace then this could affect an individual or team in a number of ways. Effects of conflict in my workplace might be: Individuals
1. Low motivation.
2. Increased absenteeism
3. Stress frustration and anxiety
If conflict has occurred in the workplace with an individual and has reached stalemate or not been resolved satisfactorily then this can again cause latent conflict. Meaning the individual no longer feels strong enough to air his differences but instead harbours these ill feelings towards their job causing them to no longer work to the best of their ability. They are no longer motivated to perform well and so there standard of work slips resulting in other problems. Management then need to address the issue with the individual as business needs still need to be met sometimes resulting in them feeling unhappy, stressed and frustrated.
This can also lead to increased absenteeism as they may no longer want to attend work due to them not enjoying it and not feeling that they are listened to. Deadlines are then harder to meet as the job is no longer being done efficiently or in the case of absenteeism extra manpower is needed to cover an individual’s job. Quality of work is then effected. If we look at the example given earlier of conflict occurring over overtime we can see how this affected the individual. When he agreed with management to do overtime he quite rightly believed he would be paid for this however when payday came he realised he hadn’t been paid for it.
This then led to him being extremely annoyed and unhappy. After discussing the issue with a member of management and being promised it would be sorted out it soon became apparent that it had not been. This then resulted in him lacking motivation in his job. He no longer went the extra mile as he had done previously and was no longer happy when at work. This shows that even low level conflict can have a huge effect on performance of an individual at work.
1. Loss of productivity
2. Delay in decision making
3. Missed deadlines
4. Strained relationships
Conflict within a group or groups effects performance at work on a larger scale. There are more people involved and productivity can be greatly affected. This can often start as latent conflict but can quickly escalate when individuals start discussing with others things that they aren’t happy about causing a domino effect. Others then become involved in the conflict which can cause problems for other individuals or the organisation. A good example of this is the scenario at my place of work is with regards to the fork truck doors.
Fork truck door handles kept getting broken which was causing an unnecessary and expensive cost to Pd Logistics. The decision to take one of the doors off to stop the door handles getting broken was very unpopular with the fork truck drivers. Those that hadn’t broken a handle felt that they were then being penalised for other peoples accidents thus resulting in them being unhappy and frustrated. The drivers were then wanting to air their views with management meaning there was a loss in productivity as there was no one around to move coils etc.
Luckily this issue was resolved quite quickly but had it not have been and decision making had been delayed then our daily deadlines may not have been met as a result of the delay in lorries being loaded and the relationship between employees and management would have been strained due to the drivers feeling they were being treated unfairly. As a leader it is important that destructive conflict is quickly identified in order to avoid the above effects and stop conflict escalating.
Explain any recognised technique a manager could use to minimise and resolve conflict in the workplace
There are a number of techniques that could be used to minimise and resolve conflict in the work place. One such technique is the method of Positioning Exercises. These exercises are designed to help people “step into each other’s shoes”. This involves imagining the interaction from two or three different perspectives. The perspectives are: 1. The first person is your own point of view
2. The second person is the point of view of the other person 3. The third person is the point of view of an observer
This method can either help stop conflict from occurring or can help stop conflict from escalating. I used this method myself when dealing with the incident over the fork truck doors. Heated debates between everyone were not helping the conflict to de-escalate so it was decided that this may help calm things down. Two of the main fork truck operatives were called for a meeting to try and resolve the issue. They were asked to think about their own views on the problem and then I told them my reasons for taking the door off. These were that every time a door handle got broken it was costing the company £144 just to fix them. At a time where we are told that the company really needs to start saving money and cut down on unnecessary spending this was just unfeasible.
Especially as the numerous breakages were due to carelessness. Every time a handle needed repairing I was expected to justify spending this amount of money to fix them. This was becoming more difficult due to the amount of breakages in a short space of time. My solution to stop this unnecessary spending was to take the door off so that handles could no longer be broken. My opinion was that if they couldn’t respect the machine and take good care of them after numerous warnings then the only action that could be taken was to remove the door hopefully teaching them a lesson. The two fork truck operatives and I were then asked to think about the situation as a whole from an observers point of view. If we weren’t directly involved in the situation what conclusions would we come to with regards to ideas and opinions.
This helped the drivers to understand that whilst everyone was being penalised for the damage it was the only way they would stop and think and start taking care of the vehicles since warnings had been ignored and this in turn would reduce maintenance costs. It also helped me to understand that when operating the fork trucks for a long period of time they were subjected to colder working conditions because of the lack of door which wasn’t fair on operatives who did take care of the machinery. This technique enabled us to understand each other’s point of view and manage to reach a compromise.
The compromise was that they would go back to the other operatives and relay the information with relation to maintenance costs etc. and if after a month they could show me that nothing on the fork trucks had been broken then the doors would be put back on. This meant that the conflict was de-escalated. All parties felt they had been listened to and all points of view taken into account and a compromise was reached and discussed amicably.
Describe how a manager could promote a positive atmosphere in order to minimise the adverse effects of conflict
Managers could promote a positive atmosphere at work by creating harmony within the work place. There are several actions that can be undertaken by a manager to create harmony a few of which we shall look at below:
Expect The Best From Your Staff
In psychology the Self-Fulfilling prophecy states that people will generally perform in the way others expect them to perform. If a team is managed badly and constantly told they are not performing well within their job role and they are not capable of doing something then it is believed that this is how they will continue to perform. So turning this around if a manager has high expectations of their staff, and they treat them as though they are very much capable and competent people and they are expected to perform this way, then it is thought that they will rise to the occasion and be the excellent employees required.
Trust is an important factor in all manner of relationships. Creating a working environment built around trust between all levels of the workforce is one of the most important things a manager can do when building a positive, harmonious work environment. Staff need to know a manager is reliable, responsible and accountable and that they can be relied upon for consistency. Trust is about doing what you say you are going to do and being who you say you are. A positive workforce needs to be led by example. If they trust their manager they will feel much happier and more secure in their jobs thus resulting in them being more motivated at work.
Create Team Spirit
One of our basic human needs is to feel we belong to something bigger than ourselves, and for many people that need is met by being part of a supportive work group. If a manager creates team spirit this enables the work force to feel united and that they are not on their own. They feel valued and that they belong. They want to come to work and they want to work to the best of their ability for themselves and to help their team mates. This will result in minimal absenteeism and increased motivation when at work.
A manager must always be approachable to their staff. This can be portrayed to the workforce by the manager communicating with them that they are always available and happy to speak to anyone about any issues that may occur no matter what position they hold. This again makes the team members feel valued and that their opinions and differences are listened to. Management need to make the team feel that if differences do occur they can be approached and will endeavour to sort the situation out. If a manager is not approachable then ill feeling can build up and latent conflict can quickly be triggered and escalated which can create lack of motivation at work.
Give Recognition and Appreciation
Most workers respond extremely well to reward and recognition schemes. If a manager notices an employee doing a job exceptionally well or going the extra mile then they should be recognised aloud for it. This can happen by either giving the employee some form of reward i.e employee of the month status or merely just acknowledging it out loud so others can here. This is a great tool for boosting team morale and making team members feel special and vital in their roles. It can also encourage others to strive to do better and improve in their job roles.
Give Credit and Take responsibility
Success within the business should always be credited to the team. This makes them feel invaluable and appreciated and makes them want to perform even better. Managers should remember that success of the business cannot happen without the work force performing well. It’s a managers job to make sure the team are always well trained and are equipped with the correct tools to be able to complete the job correctly and efficiently. If thing don’t go well it’s just as important for management to take responsibility for this as it is to give credit for success. If for some reason the team fail to perform their job in the expected manner it’s the managers responsibility to ensure they receive further training or direction to enable them to complete their job as expected. These are just a few of the examples in which a manager can promote a positive atmosphere in order to minimise the adverse effects of conflict.
In conclusion conflict within the workplace can occur because of many different reasons. A good manager can recognise conflict in its early stages and deal with it using many different techniques in order to stop the conflict escalating. This in turn creates a better working environment for the team in which they feel happy in their work and believe they are a valued member of the team resulting in an increased standard of productivity.