Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from individuals or groups that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or needs. It can also originate from past rivalries and personality differences.
Conflict is an inherent part of the employment relationship. Organisations are made up of people with increasingly diverse backgrounds, opinions, values and expectations about work.
As much as people think that they are individuals and believe that their problems are complex and one of a kind, there is actually a lot in common between work colleagues when it comes to how conflict is started and why problems escalate to intolerable situations.
Managing conflict – good or bad?
It is not only the organisation that suffers if there is conflict between people. The situation can have serious implications for the individuals concerned and for bystanders who are not immune to events taking place around them.
For every incident of conflict, there are likely to be several colleagues who witness or who are drawn in to the disagreement. This will do nothing to build relationships between those involved and could endanger future team building.
There are a number of costs involved in workplace conflict such as time-consuming, formal proceedings such as grievances and disciplinary hearings; management time being diverted to dealing with conflict instead of focusing on managing the business; staff turnover which leads to recruitment and training costs; low staff morale leading to less commitment and effort and ultimately lower productivity etc.
Organisations are recognising that people are important to the organisations success and productivity, negative conflict between individuals can severely hamper an organisations drive for competitive advantage and damage employee well-being.
If conflict is understood it can be effectively managed by reaching consensus that meets both the individual and organisation’s needs. This results in mutual benefits and strengthens the relationship. The goal is for all to “win” by having at least some of their needs met.
Mediation in the workplace is increasingly being used to resolve workplace conflicts. Mediation is especially effective when used at the initial phase of any disagreement, before conflict escalates in the workplace. An early intervention can prevent both parties becoming entrenched and the disagreement turning in to a full blown dispute. If the disagreement is resolved early on, there is less chance of the working relationship breaking down. This improves the likelihood of maintaining good and productive employment in the longer term.
Organisations therefore have a vested interest in helping their workforces acquire the necessary skills needed to recognise conflict at an early stage and manage the conflict effectively so as to sustain good employment relationships.
Kim Edwards is a Director at RESM (Pty) Ltd specializing in workplace mediation and arbitration.