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How to manage (and not be afraid of) workplace conflict

18 March 2021 at 4:40 pm
Maggie Coggan
We share some tips that will help you make it through even the stickiest situations

Maggie Coggan | 18 March 2021 at 4:40 pm


How to manage (and not be afraid of) workplace conflict
18 March 2021 at 4:40 pm

We share some tips that will help you make it through even the stickiest situations

Whether you like it or not, dealing with conflict is something all of us have to endure. 

It’s no different in the workplace, and is possibly even a place with more conflict than in other parts of your life. 

A stressful project, differing views on how a task should be handled, or a fiery manager means that conflict will arise, but that doesn’t mean it always has to end badly.

We sat down with Angela Andrews from the Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA) to find out some top ways to handle conflict. 

Hey Angela, so firstly, is workplace conflict always a bad thing? 

I think it is important to encourage  robust conversations and for there to be a diversity of opinions and perspectives and ideas put forward. This means more thought and effort is put into the decision-making process which leads to better outcomes in the longer-term. But this is only possible if you don’t have a strong,  emotional attachment to your ideas. Whereas when I think about the context of a conflict, it’s a difference of opinion, but emotions are brought to the table, which then affects not only what people say, but the manner in which they communicate their ideas.

If you find yourself in a conflict situation, how can you manage that appropriately?

One thing I’d suggest is to try and manage your own emotional response first. Can you find a way to be aware of any kind of physical sensations that you’re experiencing, or any sort of emotional reactions that you’re having? Try to breathe through that and try to centre and calm yourself and then try and separate the emotional aspects from the issue under discussion. If you can, then do that. You can then try to respond in a way that addresses the specific issues at hand without aggravating or escalating the conflict, but instead trying to de-escalate it. Try to support the other person by recognising that they might be emotionally affected by the situation too. Of course, that’s always easier said than done. 

What should you do if you can’t de-escalate the situation? 

The first thing to ask yourself is do you believe that you have the capacity to come back at a later stage and talk it through. If however, you don’t feel that that’s possible, it might be a case of inviting someone who is neutral, such as a colleague or a manager, to help facilitate the conversation and act as a go-between to enable each person to say what it is they need to say and to enable the other person to hear what is being said. There are also opportunities for people to go through what they call an active listening process, where people have a chance to say, for example, “when this happened I felt this and it therefore made me feel that way”. And then the person who is listening on the other side then repeats back and reflects what they’ve heard. And so that is a way to try and reach understanding of each other’s positions.

Does having a conflict resolution strategy in place help? 

I think one of the challenges is that for many small organisations, while they might love to have a conflict resolution policy or strategy in place, they don’t have the capacity, as they are often dealing with other, more urgent and pressing problems. 

I think it’s also about ensuring culture underpins documentation that’s been put in place. If you have an organisational culture whereby everyone treats each other with respect, is courteous, compassionate, kind, empathetic, and that when people communicate well, then people have greater capacity to discuss the issues at hand and not make things personal. Having these cultural elements in place is an essential foundation – strategies and policies should merely document the culture that has been established by an organisation’s leadership team. 

If you’re interested in learning more, Our Community is hosting a webinar on the topic on Monday 15 March. Find out more information here. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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