How to address conflicts and avoid crisis

In an organization where people work together, interpersonal differences and conflicts are possible and natural. Conflicts are not negative; the way it is handled is what produces negative impacts. Conflicts can be used constructively, if it is handled properly.

We live in a world where everyone thinks and acts differently. Therefore, differences bound to arise from time to time on various matters. Every time when a situation arises where differences are being identified, it must be addressed at the earliest. An appropriate resolution must be reached that leads to desirable action. Failure to address differences will eventually lead to crisis and undesirable consequences.

In an organization, crisis situation does not arise over night. In most cases, differences has been there for a period of time, neglected, left unattended, storing negative energies, which eventually bust out, comes out in open. When the volcano of neglected and stored negative energies erupts, often people reach by asking “how this could have happened?” In fact, one should be surprised, how come people just left those negative emotions unattended that has become so big a crisis now.

Two areas that can lead to conflict:

In an organization there are two areas. If they are not attended, will result in conflict.

Objections and Expressions: In an organization, employees are asked to follow performance standards, procedures, process, policies, and acceptable work behaviours that an organization has set for employees to adhere at work. When an employee or group of employees do not follow the norms and standards or do things in the way they would like to do, for what so ever the reason, noncompliance if not addressed can result in conflict. The severity of the problem situation depends on how seriously employees feel about how they want to do things that contradict what is being suggested by the management.

Expectations: Difference in expectations arises when, what is being offered does not meet what is being expected. Employees may have certain expectations related to changes required in certain stringent policies, leadership and management practices, work environment, compensations and benefits, other privileges, and etc. When they are not adequacy met, it causes employees to show their resentment in other areas as a way of protest. The severity of problem situation depends on the perceived gap between what is being offered and what is being expected. Wider the gap is, the stronger the employees expresses resentment.

Managing Differences and Avoiding Crisis

In an organization, right balance must be maintained between management meeting employee’s expectations and employees executing what management have asked them to. It is possible that the equilibrium can be affected for various reasons. Organization must continually engage in identify potential conflict areas, understanding the root causes, address them as soon as possible. An organization must use both formal and informal means available to understanding the concerns of all parties, reach an amicable resolution that leads to desirable action.

Conflict, when not handled properly, gives way to crisis situation that may lead to economic loss for the organization. Therefore, differences must be addressed properly to avoid conflict; conflict must be handled properly to avert a crisis situation. A conflict must be handled properly to have constructive impact on the organization.

How to resolve differences/conflicts effectively?

  1. Proactive measure to prevent unwanted situations:

Prevention is better than cure. Never wait for the situation to arise in which you will have to address difference because it has become so obvious. Take preventive approach and plan ways and means that will lead to better understanding and awareness among employees on various matters that can lead to difference.

Take proactive measures to identify potential areas where employees can develop differences. Develop mechanisms, through which employees can participate and freely express their opinions and differences. Encourage and engage in a collaborative process through which differences can be addressed and resolved at the earliest.

Proactive measure that is prevention in nature must be an ongoing process. It is not a onetime solution or situation specific. It must be part of the essential functioning of an organization.

  1. Cold War Situations:

At times everybody knows what is going under the cover; no one is willing to talk that out in open. In their own groups and closed doors they are discussing about the issues and differences. But, out in open they pretend to be nice and manage to continue to make it appear to be normal and business as usual. This is a time bomb situation; nobody knows what is going to happen, if something will happen, when it is going to happen.

When you recognize such situation, instead of wasting time, take measure to reduce tension. Take measures to build trust and confidence among the people involved so that they can engage in meaningful discussions. Set up task teams that can look into the issues and differences involved, identify the root cause and propose solutions that are acceptable to all parties involved.

When you have a situation in which people know the tension that is building each moment, it’s just a matter of time things are going to be out of control. In such a situation, even the little action can have a greater impact on the outcome of the situation. To reduce tension, create an environment that encourages openness, transparency, expression of opinions, assurance, respect and acceptance for one another. More importantly an environment in which everyone listen to one another and take effort to understand the other person’s view point.

Don’t play wait and watch. Don’t expect difference to disappear on its own. Don’t assume as time goes on things will be taken care of in itself. You may be wasting valuable time for bridging the gap instead of waiting for things to be blown out of proportion.

Don’t bust the bubble and make things worse. When you know the tension is mounting each moment, don’t act irrationally and bust the bubble that will result in outburst of emotions or leading to a situation in which you lose control of the situation. The goal must be to keep things under control so that differences and issues can be addressed through proper channels and the situation remains within the limits of manageability.

You would never want to be in a situation in which things are out of your control and you are a mere spectator. As long as you problem situation is under control it is possible to influence the outcome of the situation.

Avoid Blame Game. Instead of blaming each other or pointing finger at each other, all parties concerned must work towards building consensus, reaching an amicable resolution that will lead to a desirable action. Address real issues and emphasis on what is good for all parties involved and put the interest of organization a priority.

Understand influential players whose opinions influence others in the organization. Deal with then in a manner that establishes understanding, establish common goals that affect everyone involved as well as puts the best interest of the organization. Build awareness among everyone how individual aspirations affects and impacts on the outcome of the situation. This must be done delicately, not in a manner that threatens the self-image and public-image of those individuals. Do not engage in divisive politics, later on it may boomerang on you.

  1. Emerging differences – initial stage:

Don’t act based on assumption. Do not take it for granted that employees bound to have differences in certain areas and start addressing those issues. Take time to collect facts and causes for difference before planning and seeking solution. When you act based on assumptions you may try to resolve non-existent issues and leaving out the real issues untouched.

Use existing organizational mechanism to address issues. Strengthen the mechanism where it needs to be in order to win the trust and confidence of all parties involved. If there is a need be, create new mechanisms to address issues. However make sure all parties involved are aware of how it is going to work, how they can get involved and make a useful contribution.

The earlier the differences are addressed the easier it is to reach a resolution. The longer it takes to address the differences and reach a resolution, that mush efforts and time it will take to build healthy post resolutions work relationships.

  1. Reconciliation process:

Process through which differences are being addressed and resolution is being sought must be a collaborative process in which everyone works together build consensus. When everyone involved work together to address differences and agree to seek common ground, and put the best interest of the organization, the process itself will serve as a tool for building teams. When they reach a resolution they are more likely to work together and mate things work.

Form committee or a team to address the differences and recommend solutions. In such case the composition of team itself is a crucial. For the very people who are supposed to suggest solutions are not accepted by the employees how their recommendations will be accepted by the employees. It is important give equal representation for all parties involved. Get those people in the committee whose suggestions and recommendations will have value and standing among the employees involved.

Do not act like a disciplinarian. When you recognize differences, don’t try to dominate the employees and impose your decision on them. Instead engage in a dialog and initiate process that increases understanding and voluntary acceptance of what is good for the common good of all parties involved. Resolve issues through corroborative process instead of imposing decision on the others involved.

Don’t appear to be deliberately inactive and insensitive. When you are in a situations where both parties recognize the difference and willing to seek a resolution, watch out for the ways in which you conduct yourself. You don’t want to be perceived as deliberately avoiding action or being overly insensitive. Such conduct may result in provoking people to reach negatively.

Be genuine in bringing a resolution. If either party is not genuine about reaching a resolution, there is no point keep on discussing about issues. At some point in time it will become obvious, you can’t hide this from the other for very long. If everyone involved in the reconciliatory proceed genuinely seeking a solution, it will have profound impact on the outcome of the process.

Don’t manipulate others to do what you want. Never use reconciliatory process as a tool to buy time or squeezing the other to do what you want to do. You may succeed in the short-term, on the long-term you may lose. It is important to build trust and understanding during the reconciliatory process, without listening and understanding each other’s concerns one cannot reach a resolution that will lead to desirable action. Don’t force your decision on the others; instead enhance understanding and awareness to reach decision based on mutual consent. When they are part of the decision making, they more likely to own the decision they have reached.

Unless proper mechanisms are not built, through which each parties express their concerns and issues the effort to bring a resolution is unlikely to happen. The mechanisms should create a free and fair environment in which all parties involved are able to share their concerns openly, listen to one another’s concerns, bridge and build better understanding among every one.

Common ground will emerge when everyone involved in the process seek and focused on what is best for the organization. Explore how an individual or groups expectations and aspirations can be met through seeking what is good for the organization. Organization is the middle ground which bridges individuals, not meeting the expectations and aspirations of certain individuals.

  1. Reaching Resolution:

A resolution is a must. When a difference is being identified and recognized that may lead to a undesirable situation the means through which the difference are to be addressed is important at the same time all parties involved must reach a resolution. A resolution that will lead to desirable action. A resolution that both parties arrived through the reconciliatory process that both parties own it. Unless all parties involved do not own the resolution they have reached, they are not likely to act based on the resolution.

  1. Walk the Talk:

Resolution is a start and not an end. Action must follow the resolution. If resolutions are not backed up with action, it will lead to lack of trust and shatter confidence. All parties must walk the talk to build more trust, understanding, and confidence in each other.

At times Post resolution situation can be very uncomfortable. The management must take initiative to ensure that employees feel comfortable. Employees should not let to feel they are being targeted because of their actions in the pre-resolution period.

Sudhakar I. Prabu brings rich experience of career spanning over 20 plus years which includes leadership role in three start-ups. He has successfully planned and executed enterprise-wide management strategies in performance improvement, leadership development, learning and development, and change management, as well as facilitated leadership excellence workshops for Business Managers, Functional Managers, and Middle level managers. He can be contacted at sudhakar(at)tpmc.in

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