Resolving workplace conflict is not easy, but perhaps the first step is to stop always thinking of it as a problem. We see confrontation and disagreement as negative, damaging and to be avoided at all costs. We think that talking about a problem will be uncomfortable, or even make things worse, so we try and ignore it.
Even so handling conflict well, to a point, can be healthy and constructive – a important part of management. It can be seen as a chance to move to better workplace relations. There is an “art” to this – for example, where the listener restates a negative statement made by another person in a more positive way, without changing the meaning. Why is this important? Well, it helps the other person to appreciate that you have listened and understood them and encourages them to appreciate how others may view things. It also shifts the focus from people to behaviours.
This of course doesn’t always work, so sometimes leaders and managers today need to know what to do when workplace relations really do break down. Even then, the approach dictates the likelihood of a successful outcomes. Using mediation, for example, can ensure conflicts arising are at least managed well and, again, positive reframing is a vital tool in unblocking obstacles to making real change happen.
We hope that managers can learn to deal positively with conflict at an early stage. And when they can’t, we as mediators we too need to resolve to show the same habits of listening and learning in our daily work – and positively reframe our conversations whenever necessary.