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Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Jul 12, 2011

Dr. Mireille Chahine, Associate Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Idaho

Conflict has been defined by Hocker and Wilmot (1991) as "an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from the other party in achieving their goals". Conflict is a normal part of any workspace and it is bound to rise on a dairy. After all, not 2 employees are alike and people should not be expected to agree with each other all the time. 

Learning to deal with conflict is a very important skill. When handled correctly conflict could be a path for personal growth and could increase efficiency in the workplace. A conflict is typically more than a disagreement. It is a situation where the concerned individuals feel threatened. The threat could be real or perceived. Conflicts typically snowball if they get ignored.  Here are some tips that will help you better deal with conflict:

  • Do not ignore conflict: Studies have shown that ignoring a conflict will not make it disappear and it can lead to greater issues in the future.
  • Foster an inclusive and supportive climate
  • Empathize with the other person by putting yourself in their situation.
  • Do not own the conflict.
  • Do not get emotionally involved in the conflict
  • Identify the true disagreement and make sure it matches the perceived disagreement. People typically react to the perceived threat rather than the true threat. Understanding the true issue and developing appropriate solutions will help manage the conflict.
  • Some things are non-negotiable. Do not tolerate any physical aggression to you or between employees.
  • When in doubt, ask for clarification.
  • Never yell. Use a lower tone of voice.
  • Even when disagreeing, look for common points of view that might allow for a solution or an agreement that is acceptable to all parties.
  • Breathing deeply and taking time to cool down will help better diffuse a conflict. We tend to regret what we say when we are angry.
  • Avoid conflicts by discovering each employee’s motivation and build on it.
  • Listen broadly, reflect and try to compassionately solve a problem. Maintaining a fair and respectful attitude and communication style will help immensely.
  • If a decision has been made, summarize it at the end of the conversation and define who will do what by when.
  • Provide constructive feedback and remember that your employees need to know that they are meeting the need.
  • Provide directions. Lots of problems arise because we delegate without directing.
  • Improve your listening skills. Listen with respect. Do not interrupt and respond in a calm, non-defensive and respectful manner. Studies have shown that even though we spend 40 to 45% of our day listening, we only listen at 25% efficiency. Give your attention and avoid distractions when you are trying to resolve a conflict.
  • Focus on the situation or the problem without attacking the person involved.
  • Accept other people’s right to disagree with you.
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