Acertain amount of conflict at the
workplace is inevitable. After all,
many Americans spend more time with their coworkers than their families.
And no matter what type of organization,
there is bound to be a diverse collection of
goals, strategies, habits and ideologies on
display. The key to ensuring harmony is
acknowledging conflict and understanding
the underlying reasons for why these disputes have risen. This is where the practice
of conflict resolution comes into play.
“To be successful in conflict resolution, it
is important to realize how you usually
respond to situations when wishes, goals
or interests differ,” says Yael Hellman, a
professor in organizational leadership at
Smart Business spoke with Hellman
about the driving forces behind conflict in
the workplace, why conflict resolution can
be an effective tool and when an outside
facilitator should be used.
What is conflict resolution?
Conflict is when one person’s wishes differ from those of another. Conflict resolution, in its simplest term, is getting what
you need without stepping on others. The
ideal goal is to get to a win-win situation or
What are some of the typical reasons for conflict in the workplace?
Conflict in the workplace may occur
when people feel stressed, hassled, overworked or do not feel that they are
acknowledged or compensated appropriately. Other reasons include perceived
inequities, change and innovation. Change
may include any change in status quo in
regard to schedules, management, leadership, policies, etc.
How can a business use conflict resolution to
Businesses that use conflict resolution
successfully generally follow these competencies for managing the conflict:
- Begin with a positive overture.
- Identify the correct definition of the
- Understand the critical ingredients of
- Use open communication to resolve
the challenges of change.
- Offer tools and assistance, such as
mentoring or open-door policies, that
best deal with the tensions and pressures that accompany change.
- Have the ability to listen to conflict and
provide appropriate feedback.
- Remember that conflict isn’t always
When can conflict be good for an organization?
Whether a conflict is good or bad
depends on the type of conflict. In fact,
conflict is sometimes encouraged because
a harmonious, peaceful, tranquil and cooperative workplace may become static, apathetic and nonresponsive to the needs of
change and innovation. Some leaders suggest that a minimal level of conflict should
be maintained just enough to keep the
workplace alive, self-critical and creative.
Why is conflict resolution effective in resolving disputes?
Conflict resolution helps to diffuse potentially explosive situations by understanding human driving forces. These are the
basic needs of being valued by others, to be
in control and the need for personal self-esteem. With conflict resolution, both parties are heard without judgment or being
discounted. Trust is built, information is
shared and communication is enhanced.
When employees feel they are being heard
and acknowledged, then motivation, production and job satisfaction increase.
In what instances should an outside facilitator be brought in?
The intensity of a conflict is generally
measured by the type of conflict:
An issue is a mild conflict that may often
be resolved informally by the parties
A dispute is a conflict that can become
polarized when the issue has a history and
the parties are entrenched on both sides. It
may take a mediator to help resolve this
type of dispute. The mediator may include
trained human resource or management
personnel. Sometimes, if a big conflict cannot be solved, it’s beneficial to find out if
there is a small area within the larger issue
that can be resolved.
An impasse is a conflict with a fairly long
history and the parties have created a
mythology of hate to keep the sides polarized. It usually takes a mediator or an arbitrator from outside the organization to help
resolve this type of conflict.
YAEL HELLMAN is a professor in organizational leadership at
Woodbury University. Reach her at (818) 252-5145 or yael.