Managing conflict can be one of the hardest jobs a manager has to do. After all, conflict at work can occur for many reasons, and simply trying to ignore it can cause even greater problems.
Long-term conflict can lead to poor morale at work, low employee engagement, a loss in productivity, and severely affect teamwork. Even though it will involve having difficult conversations with employees, it is something that should be addressed as soon as it becomes apparent.
The signs of conflict
Some signs of conflict might be quite obvious, such as members of staff having an argument. However, there are other signs that can be revealing if they occur over an extended period of time.
Motivation amongst employees may be lower. They may be less inclined to take on new work, or not fully participate in team activities and meetings. If social events were a regularity amongst colleagues and they suddenly stop, that could also show that a rift has occurred too.
Productivity is likely to fall if there is conflict between teams, or between individual members of a team. Customers are unlikely to receive the same level of service if employees cannot work together. Levels of sickness absence may increase, as conflict can cause stress.
What can cause of conflict?
Several factors can cause conflict between members of staff, between teams, or between employees and management. Some common causes include:
Lack of communication
Bullying and harassment
Unresolved past problems
Any of the above causes can create conflict if an individual feels their values or personality is not compatible with the situation they find themselves in.
How to manage conflict
Listening to employees on a regular basis can help prevent conflict before it occurs. Giving employees a voice through an employee engagement survey will give them an outlet to air any problems they may have, and management can act accordingly.
Resolving conflict will sometimes just take a quiet word after investigating the problem informally. If it needs to go further, then the conflict may have to be escalated to a formal grievance procedure. Managers should be trained in conducting difficult conversations, and could consider using a mediator if needed.
Conflict between employees and management can be managed through better communication between the two parties. This could involve focus groups working together to find amicable solutions to a problem.