Conflict Resolution

by Aled Davies

Introduction

Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.

Max Lucides

Conflict is an intrinsic and inevitable aspect of social life and as human beings we experience it at many different levels.

We experience it within ourselves, when we might be in two minds about a key decision we have to take, or maybe we’ve behaved in a way that was out of character and later found regretful, so we’re finding it difficult to reconcile our behaviour and our values.

We often find ourselves encountering conflict with others, such as a conflict with a colleague, spouse, neighbour or even another road user! And then there’s the conflict we see on the news and read in the papers, the type that affects cultures, communities and whole nations.

Sooner or later, it is almost inevitable that we will experience conflict at work, as our organisations increasingly expand their enterprises and operations, merge with former competitors, outsource key operational activities and partner with organisations whose values are about as compatible with our own as oil and water.

All too often, people and organisations respond aggressively to conflict and turn to costly, stressful and time-consuming confrontational ways to seek an end to their problems. However, the reality is that such approaches only lead to the perpetuation and escalation of the initial conflict. As more and more people and resources get pulled in, what seemed like a minor disagreement between two people may now result in operations grinding to a halt as the opponents begin to build their alliances, creating divisions and ill feeling between others. Does this sound familiar?

Billions of pounds each year are absorbed in litigation costs, increased staff turnover and absenteeism, wasted management time and resources – all as a direct consequence of ineffective conflict resolution. On the other hand, a study by the American Arbitration Association has revealed that the most successful organisations adopt a more strategic approach to resolving conflict and pursue outcomes through collaborative, win-win channels of resolution. The study concluded that these organisations were more profitable, maintained stronger relationships with customers and overall had greater stakeholder confidence in the management of the company.

How conflicts are resolved at work will depend upon your organisation’s approach. This is often governed by its policies and procedures, which will have a bearing on who gets involved and which approach is taken. There are two main approaches, the first and most popular of which is the formal approach, often associated with grievance, disciplinary procedures and litigation. This is costly, stressful and time consuming. While these are not necessarily good reasons to reject more formal approaches, there are less formal processes that are better suited to resolving most interpersonal conflicts that arise in the workplace.

To use an informal process successfully requires three things:

  1. A sufficient degree of awareness, so that you as a manager can identify the tell-tale signs of conflict early enough to nip it in the bud
  2. That you develop the attitudes of courage and compassion that enable you to adopt an open and progressive approach to resolving conflict
  3. That you have sufficient mastery of the skills and the process to be able to manage conflict effectively and empower others to do the same.

In this topic we cover

  • How conflicts start
  • How they escalate
  • How to spot the tell-tale signs so that you can act early to resolve them
  • How to choose the most appropriate method of tackling conflict
  • The essential attitudes and skills required to resolve conflict through informal and collaborative approaches.

Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Martin Luther King Jnr