Resolving Conflict at Work

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

    – Carl Jung, Swiss psychologist

Conflict in the workplace is pretty much unavoidable, given that people you work with will have different viewpoints. And sometimes, it is more of a clash of opinions rather than conflict per se, from which you can learn a lot. In either case, how you handle the conflict or clash matters. One thing you should not do is allow the conflict to fester by merely ignoring it or playing the blame game. If a conflict is left unresolved, sooner or later it will get blown out of proportion and lead to ill feeling all around.

Psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart have identified eight main causes of conflicts. They are 1. Conflicts over resources, 2. Differing working styles, 3. Conflicting perceptions, 4. Conflicting goals, 5. Conflicting pressures, 6. Conflicting roles, 7. Differing personal values, and 8. Unpredictable policies.

The conflict could arise because of competition for scarce resources in the organization. For example, conflict could arise over the sharing of a conference room. Use tact and consideration. Negotiate and be willing to make concessions. Take the matter to a higher-up if you cannot resolve it.

Different people have different working styles. Accept that styles differ. As long as the work is getting accomplished, the style should be of least concern.

Conflicts could arise due to differing assumptions and perceptions. The same situation can be viewed differently by different people. Having a friendly chat with an open mind and asking clarificatory questions can lead to a better understanding of each other’s position, thus defusing the conflict.

Conflict could arise due to differing goals. People could be doing more than one task at a time. Even if they prioritize the task you have assigned, they may not be clear about whether what is expected is the speed of execution or high-quality output, be it customer service or generating a report. This source of conflict can be minimized by specifying in advance what is expected of them and rescheduling if necessary.

Some tasks need to be completed urgently. But if two urgent tasks are required to be completed, it is a source of conflict due to conflicting pressures. While conflicts due to differing goals manifest with longer-term projects, these conflicts involve urgent projects. The best option in such a case is to reschedule the tasks and push the deadlines further. That would relieve the pressure on the person concerned.

People tend to guard their territory at work. They tend to be conscious of the extent of their responsibilities, power, and jurisdiction. If this is encroached upon due to conflicting roles, it can lead to turf wars. To avoid such situations, communicate clearly what is expected of each team member. Use a team chart to announce and fix each member’s roles and responsibilities if necessary.

Different personal values are another potential source of conflict at work. You may be called upon to shoulder tasks that conflict with your personal ethical values and standards. Negotiating that at work is not easy because flatly turning down the work may draw your boss’ ire. A heart-to-heart talk in such a situation with the powers that be can lead to a renegotiation of what is expected of you. It could mean modification in the specifications of the task or a reassignment of the task to someone else.

If there are unpredictable policies at work, it can lead to snafu (situation normal all fouled up). Snafu situations should be avoided by correct and timely communication on what the rules are and the reasons for the rules being in place. Once the rules are in place, apply them consistently over time. Most conflicts can be avoided or tided over if you follow some simple rules in all your relationships: be open, communicate clearly, listen carefully, identify assumptions, do not get personal, show respect, and avoid the blame game.

D. Samarender Reddy

Holds degrees in Medicine (MBBS) and Economics (MA, The Johns Hopkins University). Certified programmer. An avid reader. Worked in various capacities as a medical writer, copywriter, copyeditor, software programmer, newspaper columnist, and content writer.

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