Recognising Conflict

In most workplace conflicts, disagreements and problems do occasionally occur. Most people can recognise and identify the signs of when a conflict is starting to occur quite easily, but others may be oblivious. It is in the best interest of everyone that these conflicts are dealt with effectively and quickly to ensure that there is less disruption to the business and the relationship between the parties.

Conflicts generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. Where people’s ideas and decisions vary and a dispute arises about what should be done.
  2. When two or more people simply do not like or get along with each other.

Some ways to identify possible conflict include:

  • Agitated body language: People often show how they’re feeling through their body language. For example, if someone is angry they’ll often have their arms crossed, hands on hips, clenching of fists and restless or sudden movements.
  • Signals of impatience: If a person becomes impatient they usually begin to interrupt, look around, become sarcastic, tap their feet and roll their eyes.
  • Personal space: Upset or angry people may invade your personal space. Moving closer to a person is considered an aggressive action and can lead into an altercation if the person feels threatened.
  • Voice: The volume of someone’s voice tends to raise when the person is upset or angry.
  • Language:  When someone becomes angry or upset they can begin repeating themselves, using sarcasm, swear, accuses or blames other people.
  • Disrespect: People that are involved in a conflict may speak disrespectfully against the other person or make negative remarks when that person is mentioned.
  • Violence: Violence includes physical altercations like punching or kicking or in some instances can include throwing of objects and threatening the other person.
  • Avoidance: People may avoid others that they are upset or angry with. This isn’t always a negative thing as some people may just need to calm down before tackling the issue at hand.
  • Facial expression: Most people show their emotions through their facial expressions as well. An angry or upset person’s face may show narrowing of the eyes, aggressive staring and frowning.



Seeking assistance

If a conflict arises between you and another person or you can see a conflict arising, it is best to seek assistance from your HR representative or supervisor/manager, expecially if you are working in a junior position, have just recently started working or have only a few years’ experience. When noticing and reporting conflicts in the workplace, ensure that it is a conflict that needs to be brought to a supervisors or managers attention. This is because a lot of the time people tend to sort out the issues themselves and do not need help from a supervisor or manager.

If you are being bullied or harassed in any nature, make your HR representative and manager/supervisor aware as soon as possible. They will then be able to handle the situation and take further action if necessary.

Resolving conflict

When dealing with a conflict situation it is important to remember that there are usually at least two points of view and often two or more versions of the story as to how the situation occurred. The HR representative or supervisor who is conducting the investigation should have experience in this department and are able to get all parties points of view, as well as navigate a successful outcome.

When it comes to resolving a conflict, it is not about being a judge and deciding who is right and who is wrong then imposing a solution. The best way to solve a conflict situation is to ask the people involved; they are in a much better situation to know how to solve the problem than you.

Below are the steps on listening and discussing a conflict.

  • Step 1 – Listen: Do not talk, just listen to both sides. This may be done better with the parties in separate rooms to avoid the conflict starting again.
  • Step 2 – Show understanding: Show both parties that you understand their situation and their feelings are important. Using open questions help prompt the parties to share more information with you.
  • Step 3 – Compromise: Sometimes there is one party that is in the wrong and needs to be made aware that their actions have consequences. But in most instances, both parties are at fault and will need to compromise in order for the conflict to be resolved.
  • Step 4 – Agree: Sometimes when a person is upset it is best to agree with them. This helps them feel like they’re being heard and that their situation is important to you.
  • Step 5 – Define the conflict: Allow the person to explain what the conflict is without any interruptions. Once they have finished ask questions to clarify any information and repeat the reason of conflict back to them to get their agreement.
  • Step 6 – Find a solution: In general, it is best to get all parties in agreement on how the problem should be fixed. Sometimes it may take a bit of negotiation, talking and listening.
  • Step 7 – Follow up: Once the situation has been resolved. Follow up with both parties to make sure they are carrying out their end of the bargain. It is also important to ensure that all parties are happy with the outcome of the situation.


Possible outcomes

Conflict outcomes can be constructive or destructive in various ways. Two questions that can be asked to assess the quality of a conflict are, who wins? and is the outcome permanent or temporary? These questions can assist in understanding if a conflicts outcome is hurtful or helpful to both parties.

People often see a win if they are able to achieve their goals. Below are common ways for outcomes and how they can differ.

  • Win-lose: This conflict resolution allows only one person to achieve their goals while the other does not.
  • Lose-lose: This conflict resolutions doesn’t allow either parties to achieve their goals. This often happens when people avoid discussing their conflicts.
  • Win-win: This conflict resolution is ideally the outcome you aim for. This way both parties achieve their goals.
  • Compromise: This conflict resolution allows both parties to partially achieve their goals. This means both parties sacrificed something in order to get an outcome.


Managing conflict

Many businesses would have a plan to deal with conflict and they should be handled as soon as they arise. There are many recourses to help you when a conflict happens expecially in a large business. Some recourses will be people that you can call upon to help you but in many businesses there are systems and procedures in place that are often used as guidance.

Available resources may include:

  • Human Resource (HR) department – The people who work in the HR department are usually highly skilled and know all the rules and laws relating to conflict situations. They generally deal with conflicts between staff, regarding employment conditions, sexual harassment or workplace bullying.
  • Security department – If you feel the situation could get out of hand or you are concerned about the personal safety of yourself, colleagues or customers may be compromised then do not hesitate to call the security department or the police. Security staff and police are specially trained to deal with these situations.
  • Policies and procedures – If your business has a policy or procedure to deal with conflict situations then you should follow that policy or procedure.
  • Managers and Supervisors – Managers and supervisors usually have more experience in dealing with complaints and conflict situations. It is a good idea to get them involved in a situation, so their experience can help and you can learn from the way they handle the situation.
  • Unions – If the conflict is about staff working conditions or payments and the staff member is a member of a union, then the union may be able to help resolve and explain the situation.
  • Facilities – Such as private meeting rooms where conflicts can be discussed and resolved in a calm and private manner.
  • Support services– Local support services if one of the people involved has personal problems that are affecting their workplace performance and relationships.