Conflict, like death and taxes, is inevitable. This is especially true in today’s diverse environments where people can have dramatically different values, communication styles, work styles, and personality types. Fortunately, conflict does not have to negatively impact our lives. In fact, many organizational conflicts can be prevented, or at least minimized, if we take 10 proactive steps.
1. Provide conflict resolution training. You can reduce the negative impact of conflict by helping employees develop the skills they need to successfully resolve the conflicts that occur in their lives. This gives people more confidence in their ability to resolve both personal and professional conflict. It also makes people more effective at addressing minor conflicts as they occur, instead of allowing them to become major distractions.
2. Provide communication skills training. By providing communication skills training, employees can increase their ability to communicate effectively with a diverse range of individuals, and manage the communication problems that are often at the heart of organizational conflict.
3. Help staff develop positive work relationships. Give employees a chance to get to know each other better, and to feel more comfortable with each other. This can be done by providing opportunities for social interaction on a continuous basis, by giving assignments that put staff into contact with people they don’t normally interact with, and by providing cross-training opportunities.
4. Implement team building activities. You can significantly improve team relationships and performance through the team development process. Such activities provide an opportunity for team members to get more comfortable with each other, to identify acceptable behaviors and modes of interaction, and to determine how team problems and conflicts will be resolved.
5. Develop strong communication channels. You can improve communication within a team or organization by strategically employing informational and problem-solving meetings, and by utilizing a diverse range of organizational communication tools. Such tools include face-to-face discussions, e-mail, texting, videoconferences, online meetings, bulletin boards (both physical and electronic), voice mail and faxes.
6. Create an environment that encourages participation. This can be done through formal employee involvement programs such as self-directed work teams, and suggestion systems that ask for employee input and reward people for their participation. This is especially important because research has consistently shown that employee involvement programs have a positive impact on both individual and organizational performance.
7. Provide conflict mediation training for leaders. No matter how hard you work at reducing dysfunctional conflict (conflict that hinders performance and prevents you from achieving organizational goals), sooner or later it is going to occur. Therefore, organizational leaders should develop their conflict mediation skills so they can help employees resolve the conflicts that will inevitably arise.
8. Provide third-party conflict mediation services. There will be times when a manager or supervisor cannot mediate a conflict between employees. During these times, it helps if employees feel they have an experienced, objective third-party where they can confidentially address a conflict situation.
9. Make sure employees are clear about organizational goals and priorities. Generally speaking, conflicts occur because of differences over facts, goals, methods or values. By ensuring that employees (especially the members of a given work team) are on the same page regarding objectives, priorities and plans, you will decrease the chances that dysfunctional conflict will occur due to differences over facts, goals or methods.
10. Treat everyone fairly. This may seem obvious, but many managers are accused of preferential treatment, and it is incumbent upon organizational leaders to make sure they are behaving in an egalitarian fashion. Even the appearance of preferential behavior can create conflict situations.