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12th May 2015

Ten top tips for turning workplace conflict into collaboration

At Impact Consulting Psychologists we help individuals and organisations turn workplace conflict into collaboration. Read our Ten Top Tips below!

1. Test the Climate

Are your team members overloaded or underloaded? According to the stress curve employees can fall into the ‘challenging zone’  where pressure is high and can lead to irritability and increased errors; or the ‘supportive zone’ where pressure is low which can eventually lead to low motivation, boredom and absenteeism. In either of these zones, conflict can arise. For optimal performance employees need a balance between support and challenge, so a calm, motivated climate can be created encouraging the use of initiative. Testing the climate is the first step to becoming a more collaborative workforce.

2. Get to the Root

Sometimes we make mountains out of molehills and this is no different with workplace conflict. The root of conflicts can be something very simple, such as lack of communication. Lack of role clarity or perceptions of job insecurity are also sources of conflict – which may be solved through better communication. Once the source is established and out in the open, then we can start dealing with the conflict.

3. Promote an Improvement Culture

It is the culture, the informal social and psychological aspects of an organisation that influences how people think, what they see as important and how they behave. The nature of the culture determines the success of reforms. The organisation’s culture develops from what is really valued and demonstrated through what people do rather than what they say or aspire to. Culture is about messages sent, that show us what is valued, what is important, what people need to be accepted and to progress. By finding and changing enough of the sources of these messages you will build an improvement culture.

4. Use Situational Leadership

Situational leadership helps you to analyse the needs of the situation and adopt the most appropriate delegation style. There are four situational leadership styles used according to the development and commitment levels of staff; Directing, Coaching, Delegating and Supporting. No one style is optimal for all leaders and each will have their own natural or preferred style. Effective leaders need to be flexible – and to adapt themselves according to the situation.

5. Recognise the Power of Perception

In order to manage a difficulty, you need to manage yourself first. Our reaction to an event is largely determined by our view of it, not by the event itself. You have a choice – you can make a conscious choice about your response to conflict, for example. We all experience negative thoughts at times and these can be more frequent during situations of conflict. When allowed to persist, they can prolong our negative moods and conflict situations. Therefore it is important to understand that our own perception can influence how a conflict is managed to achieve a positive outcome.

6. Adapt your Interpersonal Conflict Style

Most of us exhibit extreme behaviour in reaction to certain situations – especially if threatened. This can increase or reduce conflict. Interpersonal conflict styles can typically be summed up as 4 preferences – Competing, Avoiding, Accommodating or Collaborating. Like situational leadership it is important to know which one is your typical preference and know when you need to change this to adapt to certain situations and achieve the best possible outcome.

7. Work on your Undermining Beliefs

Typically each conflict style is supported by an undermining belief. These lead us to see the world in an unrealistic manner and occur more frequently during times of stress and change. These impact our behaviour through the mind-body connection and can maintain or enhance our low mood/angry behaviour/anxious state. An example of an undermining belief would be black and white thinking; outcomes are either all good or all bad. Thinking in ‘shades of grey’ is a strategy that may help shift conflict to collaboration.

8. Become more Assertive

Hostility or aggression can create conflict but being more assertive can be key to turning a conflict into a positive collaborative outcome.  Certain assertiveness techniques can be used such as the ’broken record’ technique; repeating a phrase continuously which gets the ultimate message across. Another technique is the ‘3 part sentence’; identify the needs of the individual, your feelings about the situation and a suggestion to progress towards a positive outcome. When you become more assertive, resilience is increased and conflicts that arise are easier to deal with.

9. Resist Manipulation

Manipulative individuals exist in every workplace and often can be at the core of a workplace conflict. We can deal with these individuals by utilising assertiveness techniques. For example someone who uses ‘put downs’ or sarcasm can be wrong footed if you probe their statement, for example; ‘’You think I look worn out? Yes I’ve been putting in the hours lately – a weekend off will recharge my batteries.’’ If an individual tends to make judgemental statements then using the 3 part sentence technique or ‘broken record’ technique can help to diminish any conflict of interest that potentially could arise.

10. Learn the Art of Negotiation

Reaching a win/win solution can make all the difference to the long term success of your negotiations and future business relationships.  In order to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome, it is important that you realise that your counterpart’s needs and wants are not necessarily the same as yours. You should listen carefully to the other party and expect to compromise, in order to achieve the ultimate goal of convergence. Remember, at the end of a win/win negotiation, both parties should feel like they’ve accomplished something positive.