Australian Institute of Soft Skills Training

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5 Critical tips for resolving conflict in the workplace

04/03/2019 10:53:00 PM

Try of handshaking between two work partners

The reality is that conflict is a part of life – especially in the workplace. Increasingly short deadlines, high pressure projects and the constantly increasing pace of business makes conflict more and more likely. Soft skills play a vital role in effectively resolving conflict at work.

Handled poorly, workplace conflict can have severe personal and financial impacts. The good news is that with the right skills and developed levels of EI you can handle conflict confidently and with respect. Here are five critical tips to keep in mind if you find yourself in a workplace conflict situation.

Don’t be defensive - workplace conflict doesn’t have to be bad

Remember that conflict does not have to be negative. A Canadian survey found that conflict can, in the right circumstances “lead to better solutions to problems and challenges, major innovations, increased motivation and higher work team performance”.

It’s all in how you handle the situation.

Remember your default style

If your first reaction to conflict is to run as far and as fast as you can – don’t feel bad. You are not alone. According to Harvard Business Review, even experienced managers avoid conflict – it depends on whether you are an Avoider or a Seeker. According to HBR, everyone has one of these as a default response. Neither style is wrong, but as HBR says, understanding that these fall back styles exist can make it easier to correctly understand your responses and that of the other person.

Stay within the lines

When dealing with conflict it is important to remember that conflict may be the visible result of a behaviour that has legal implications. Harassment, bullying, and sexual harassment are examples of behaviours that can lead to conflict but are serious offences in themselves. There are formal guidelines for dealing with these behaviours so being able to recognise when these behaviours are triggering conflict is important.

Know yourself and your typical responses

While you can’t control the behaviours of other parties, understanding yourself and how you respond to conflict can have a major effect on the outcome of a situation. Self-knowledge and high levels of emotional intelligence can help you empathise with others and offset your own non-constructive responses. Remember that in conflict situations, perception can easily displace the facts, so being able to come back to a position of listening with empathy can reduce the chances of accelerating misunderstandings.

Watch your tone and posture – remember voice and non-verbal cues

Very little communication results from what comes out of our mouth. According to Psychology Today, the general theory is that “55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.” Most of the communication we bring to a conflict situation is interpreted and induced (correctly or incorrectly) from tone of voice, and body language.

Your stance, movement and tone of voice all carry signals to the other party about how you are thinking about them and the issue at hand. These signals aren’t always correct, but by being aware of your own body language you can actively and consciously signal a willingness to engage in good faith. Open gestures, loose relaxed posture and an even vocal tone are just some of the things that you can do to signal your own positive intent.

Staff reflect what managers model

Remember that a company and management culture that actively models successful and positive outcomes from conflict resolution shows its staff that its OK to disagree, and provides examples of behaviours that help staff find constructive respectful ways to deal with issues.

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