Workplace conflict is one of the most insidious things that can work its way into an organization. It doesn’t always manifest in obvious ways such as shouting; more often than not, it takes the form of passive-aggressive comments and political maneuvering that hinders productivity and jeopardizes the success of your business. It is vital to catch it before it gets out of control, and it is even more important that you don’t get involved in it personally. The only thing that actually works is getting to the root of the problem, and while it takes some time to learn how to do that, it is an essential skill for maintaining the health of your business and creating a friendly work environment.
Before you can adopt an effective solution, you will need to know what does not work. The traditional model for employee behavioral correction is progressive discipline, which is essentially a ladder of ever-increasing punishments that culminate in termination for employees that don’t get their act together. The consequences can range from informal coaching sessions to multi-day retreats or suspension depending on the number of violations under someone’s belt and how they’ve responded to prior discipline.
To be fair, progressive discipline not a total failure. First, it gives employers the means to identify and respond to problems in the work place. Second, it enables employers to create clear boundaries that the employee will either adhere to or risk termination. Third, it inoculates employers against legal problems because the employee knows exactly what is expected from him and that everybody’s on the same page regardless of what happens.
Despite those advantages, it has a few glaring holes, the worst one being that it is purely negative reinforcement. Progressive discipline relies entirely on getting the offender to comply, without actually addressing their anti-social behavior or calming tensions between workers. There needs to be an aim besides, “stop acting badly” in order for this kind of thing to be successful over the long term. It also needs to engage employees in the process.
Pulling Up the Roots
The thing that makes conflict resolution a powerful tool in the manager’s tool chest is that it not only makes it easier to engage employees, it necessitates it. It requires talking to the people that are having problems and figuring out exactly what’s got everyone up in arms.
Conflict resolution let everyone say what’s on their minds; everyone’s words have equal weight. In nearly every case where there’s a conflict, something has been exaggerated and everyone has lost sight of the bigger picture because of minute things that have been blown out of proportion. Conflict resolution shines a light on those things and put them into their proper context. Companies that adopt conflict resolution strategies identify what’s preventing their workers from coming to an agreeable solution, and then bring a resolution to the table.
Businesses aren’t comprised of numbers and statistics, they’re made of people. Your success ultimately hinges on every single person within your organization. Whereas traditional methods create a divide between employer and employee, conflict resolution techniques that are properly utilized will let you act with authority while at the same time providing a much more robust support structure.
Conflict resolution ultimately translates to higher productivity, higher worker satisfaction, an increased sense of loyalty within your staff, and higher quality work. It also means that key employees who may have some issues that would otherwise require them to be let go can be brought back into the fold, while employees in general will be more likely to stay. Handling conflict is not just about dealing with the person causing the most problems; if it’s handled badly, it may leave a poor taste in other employees’ mouths, and sooner or later that will cause them to seek a job elsewhere. Proper conflict management eliminates this problem; good workers that got off track are more likely to respond favorably to a manager that cares, and the respect of your staff will translate to higher retention rates across the board.
A big part of creating a successful business involves creating a work environment that no one wants to leave. Conflict resolution is one of the most effective ways to do that in the modern age, and while it’s still not a perfect methodology, it can mean the difference between keeping invaluable employees and losing them to competing companies.
About the Author: Amy Diaz blogs about the benefits of using conflict resolution in the workplace. If conflict resolution interests you as a career, you might consider applying to Abilene Christian University or Creighton University.