HR professor

Effective Conflict Management in the Workplace

In any organization, conflicts arise between employees as a natural outcome of employee relations. To an extent, conflicts are necessary and fairly normal in every workplace. The problem really arises when the managers get embroiled in these conflicts and find themselves in sticky situations.

I am reminded of a popular fable by Leo Tolstoy. The story described two children at play who get into a squabble. Their parents, seeing the fight, join in and take sides with their children. Soon the fight builds into enormous proportions when more and more people join each side, thereby having the entire village divided into two parties in the conflict. The interesting part of the story is that the two kids who started the fight completely forget about their fight and continue to play happily.

Managers can become quite like the unthinking adults in the story. They get sucked into minor disputes between employees and often lose focus on their goals.

The most effective conflict management technique is to let the employees handle their own conflicts and find their solutions. As a manager, it is not your responsibility to jump into every little squabble between employees. Here is what you need to do to manage those petty clashes:
  • Stay out of the dispute. Don't take any sides or else you will be classified as the 'unfair boss'. If not that, you will be seen as a 'corporate bully' who uses position power to hit out at your employees.
  • Train your employees on issues of conflict management. Conflict management is not a fire fighting technique; it has to be done well in advance. Such remedial measures will curb the employees' need to bring every conflict to the manager's table.
  • Set policies and guidelines to help employees resolve their conflicts. There should be a written and oral communication on what employees are expected to do in case of conflicts. Reaching out to the manager should be the last resort when all else fails.
  • Educate employees on diverse work styles, cultures and ethics of people. Teach them to respect and be tolerant to other's beliefs and behaviors. An empathetic work environment allows everybody to fit in and gives adequate room for diverse behaviors.
  • It should be very clear to employees of what are acceptable behaviors for the organization. By turning away from conflicts, the organization may indirectly be supporting illegal or immoral behaviors.
  • Whistle blowers should also not feel sidelined by stringent procedures. If an employee raises an alarm against a potential threat to the organization, the managers must act immediately and encourage such whistle blowers.
  • Finally, lead by example. Conflict resolution should be actively undertaken in the organization at all levels. People should be encouraged to find creative solutions to their problems. And in case there are people who constantly pick a fight, they should be corrected for their behavior immediately. There are many conflict management styles; each employee has to find a style that best suits her personality.

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