December 9, 2015
RESOLVING CONFLICT AT WORK
Are you experiencing conflicts in the workplace? Is it difficult to communicate with a co-worker, a supervisor or manager? When you get ready for work, do you get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach? You are not alone. Conflict is inevitable and while it occurs in all aspects of life, workplace disputes often have a negative effect on productivity and work relationships.
Conflicts develop when our individual needs, wants, methods, goals, and values are different. A conflict is different from a disagreement because it is almost always accompanied by feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety. Relationships fail or break down when the parties involved ignore or avoid the conflict, but in work situations, people normally have to continue to work together. Many employers recognize that managing conflict effectively is an essential skill for maintaining a cohesive and productive work environment.
As an employee there are some things you can do to deal with conflict more effectively. Conflict can be managed by learning and applying good communication skills and problem solving skills in your day-to-day interactions. In some conflicts, we become emotionally charged and our focus is on blame, fault, and responsibility (our positions). As we become entrenched in our positions, we unwittingly, “feed” the conflict by accusing, blaming or finding fault.
If we focus on individual needs and desires (our interests) and work with each other rather than against each other, we have a better chance for resolving the conflict. While uncovering the interests of each person in the conflict helps to pinpoint what triggered the conflict, problem solving techniques help us solve each issue the parties discussed. Most of us use problem-solving techniques at work every day. Unfortunately, we don’t realize that those same skills can be used to resolve conflicts.
If your attempts to solve the conflict are unsuccessful, then as an employee, you may use the traditional, formal systems available to you to settle a dispute such as the grievance process or Equal Employment Opportunity process. In recent years, mediation has increased in popularity because it is an informal problem solving process that saves time and is cost effective. The mediation process is designed to assist individuals in conflict with creating a mutual solution to their dispute.
Mediation is also helpful in improving communications and repairing relationships. Mediation differs from court processes because it is not designed to determine who is right or wrong. In mediation, the parties create their own agreement while the mediator acts as a facilitator. Unlike court proceedings where a judge decides the outcome, nothing is decided in mediation unless both parties agree to the terms.
If you elect to use a more formal process such as a grievance or other type of complaint process, someone else will decide the outcome for you. However, in the mediation process, you and the other person maintain control over the outcome. Which would you rather choose?
Elly Cleaver is MSAC Board Member and a retired Federal Government Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist.