Why the skill of managing conflict cannot die

Tuesday 18 April, 2017 | By: Andrea Doyle | Tags: small business, smart business, managing conflict

Many skills, over time, have been superseded. Remember those driving lessons where we learned to do a reverse parallel park?

All that time spent learning how to set up the car, knowing when to start turning and when to stop is now moving to the long-term memory bank as these days, we can buy cars that will park for us! Eventually of course there’ll be driverless cars.

But there is one skill I cannot let slip away from workplaces. And that is the skill of managing workplace conflict well. I urge everyone who supervises staff to maintain a high level of skill in the area of managing staff conflict. It’s not something you want to be learning, by making mistakes, on the job.

Workplace cultural change was needed

Over the last few decades, the workplace and how employees are viewed has been through an enormous cultural shift. Workplace health and safety laws now cover areas such as the mental health of employees while at work.

“Mental health can be greatly impacted when conflict isn’t managed well, or isn’t managed at all.”

More often than not, by the time I am called into a workplace to assist with a conflict, I meet employees whose safety and wellness in the workplace have already been compromised.

Why managing conflict well is important - meet Sarah

Sarah* is 42 years old. By the time I met her, she had been in her job for ten years and loved it. She valued the customer interaction, the challenges of the ever-changing routine of shift-work and she delighted in the company of her colleagues. Sarah was proud to work for her employer.
Even after “it” happened, Sarah still enjoyed coming to work. She was a little uncomfortable for a while but thought things would get back to normal soon. But they didn’t. And when one of Sarah’s colleagues talked about it to their supervisor, the situation got worse. For twelve months. Sarah’s supervisor wanted to help and attempted to but things went from bad to worse. 

The poorly-managed conflict impacted Sarah’s health. For more than a year, she was subjected to inappropriate behaviours and although she had spoken to her colleague and asked for it to stop and the supervisor had attempted the same, the behaviours continued. Sarah’s GP prescribed medication to help her sleep. She was losing weight, looking gaunt and seeing a psychologist. Her family/support network were also feeling the stress as Sarah was the breadwinner for the family.
The problem escalated when the supervisor didn’t know how to help the situation and then no further support was offered within the business, for twelve months.

How does your business rate?

Is the skill of managing conflict still alive in your business? Not sure? Here’s how to find out:
Bring together the supervisors in groups of six (maximum). Provide them with Sarah’s scenario and ask them how they would respond. If you are not hearing answers such as those following, it’s time to act:

  • meet with Sarah and the colleague, separately, to find out what’s going on
  • ask if there were any witnesses to any behaviours
  • outline the business’ policy on bullying and explain why it’s inappropriate
  • encourage Sarah to meet with the colleague to discuss the issues, if she feels safe
  • if Sarah doesn’t feel safe but would like to meet with her colleague, offer to bring the two of them together (with the supervisor present) to discuss each other’s perspective of what’s been happening
  • discuss what happens if inappropriate behaviour is reported again
  • if inappropriate behaviour continues and supervisor isn’t sure how to handle the next step, the supervisor should be speaking to someone in the business who does know how to manage it and will manage it well.

CCIQ members benefit from dedicated HR/IR help and support. Simply call the Employer Assistance Hotline on 1300 135 822 and let our expert team assist you today.

Start improving your business’ ability to manage conflict well today

If you respect your employees and you don’t want them to experience what Sarah has gone through, then ensure all supervisors possess the skills and knowledge to identify and manage conflict well. If needed, provide them with training where they can practise their skills in the safety of a training room – rather than on an employee in a real situation.

Not everyone will be good at it. Not everyone will be confident. But to avoid having a Sarah on your staff, suffering for twelve months, supervisors needs to know who they can go to for support. If you can’t name who the go-to person on your staff is for managing conflict well, then it’s time to take action and begin training to develop the conflict management skills of all supervisors. You don’t want to hear Sarah’s story from one of your own employees.

Andrea Doyle

About the contributor:

Andrea Doyle, owner of DOYLESolutions, is a workplace mediator and a conflict manager. She specialises in helping SMEs manage workplace conflict well. In 95% of her mediation participants leave agreeing on how they will work together. Holding a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management, being an experienced human resource manager and conflict management trainer as well as a nationally accredited mediator, she understands workplace conflict from the inside. Andrea is also the author of the book, From Conflict to Consensus: Managing Workplace Conflict Well. Website: http://www.doylesolutions.com.au

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