Conflict is inevitable in workplace settings, and conflicts can arise between co-workers, supervisors and subordinates or between employees and external stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers and regulatory agencies. Managing conflict is a key competency, and all small business owners should study and practice effective conflict management skills to maintain a positive workplace environment. Reviewing examples of conflicts and resolutions in the workplace can give you an idea of what to expect when conflicts arise.
Issues of Discrimination
Discrimination can be a source of heated conflict, potentially ending in legal trouble for a company or its owners. Discriminatory conflicts can arise from personal prejudices on the part of employees or perceptions of mistreatment of employees. As an example of a discrimination-related conflict, imagine a minority worker in a team who feels that he is consistently assigned the most menial work tasks in the group. This worker may begin to harbour resentment against team members and managers, eventually lashing out through decreased productivity or outright verbal conflict. A manager could sit down with the whole team to resolve the issue and discuss the way in which job tasks are assigned, making changes as necessary to ensure that tasks are divided equitably.
No employee likes to receive a negative performance review, but giving negative feedback in a review can be unavoidable based on the worker’s actions during the review period. Workers may become angry over not receiving expected pay rises, promotions or other performance-related incentives, and may lash out by spreading discontent through gossip and a negative attitude at work. Employees may argue directly with supervisors during performance reviews, creating sensitive situations that require tactful communication. To resolve a conflict arising from a negative performance review, work directly with the worker to create a solid time-bound plan of action to improve their performance, and tie the completion of these goals to guaranteed incentives. Allow employees a voice when setting goals to increase their dedication to achieving the goals.
Conflicts with Customers
Sales and customer service employees can experience conflict with customers on a fairly regular basis, depending on the industry. A common conflict experienced by salespeople is a dissatisfied customer who feels personally defrauded by an individual salesperson. For example, if a salesperson sells a used car without a performance guarantee or warranty and the car breaks down on the buyer, the buyer may return to confront the salesperson and demand a refund angrily. The best first step to solve these conflicts is to involve a manager who has the right to offer refunds, discounts or other conciliatory gestures to the customer unless you are in a situation where employees are empowered to make these kinds of decisions.
Personality clashes between managers and subordinates can cause a range of interpersonal conflicts to arise. Employees may feel bullied or pushed by more authoritarian managers or may perceive a lack of guidance from more hands-off managers. Managers with type-A personalities may set goals that are too ambitious for their subordinates, setting them up for failure and inevitable conflict. To handle these personality mismatches, first, try to garner an understanding between the manager and the subordinate so that each understands the others’ perspective on the situation. Never treat conflict management situations as disciplinary hearings, as if managers are inherently right and employees are inherently wrong; this is a reliable way to lose good employees. If the two cannot come to an understanding, place the employee under the supervision of another manager if possible.
By: David Ingram