By Chris Ceplenski
First Published – Sep 9, 2013
Conflict in the workplace is common, so effective conflict resolution strategies for HR need to be common as well.
Conflict is any workplace disagreement that disrupts the workflow. It is often a situation in which people perceive a threat; they may perceive this threat as physical, emotional, or a grab for power or status. It’s usually a gut feeling, not necessarily a specific threat that occurs. Conflict can also occur whenever people try to make others change their actions or to gain an unfair advantage.
“Another component of conflict is: responses are based on perceptions of a situation, rather than an objective view. What that means is, sometimes our intent is different than how people perceive. How people communicate or how they respond to certain things, is based on their perceptions—not the intent that’s happening. So, we have to be really cautious about our communication style, body language, how things happen in the workplace, so that the employees interpret the intent of what we’re trying to do in the workplace.” Di Ann Sanchez told us in a recent BLR webinar. This highlights the point that conflict is often based on perception, and HR has to get to the root of the matter.
Conflict Resolution: Why Should HR Get Involved?
Why should HR get involved in conflict resolution in the first place? Shouldn’t the conflict be resolved by those involved? There are actually a lot of reasons that it makes sense for HR to step in, not the least of which are the high costs of conflict:
- Lost productivity
- Poor employee health
- Potential accidents
- Risk of litigation
- Increased turnover
- Potential for theft, violence, or sabotage
- Wasted time
“As managers and supervisors, you really need to manage the workplace conflict so that these kinds of things [are] minimized.” Sanchez advised.
5 Conflict Resolution Steps for HR
Conflict resolution is the elimination of the conflict by arriving at a mutually beneficial outcome. Here are 5 conflict resolution practices for HR to incorporate:
- Emphasize Clarity and Consistency in Policies and Procedures. “Make the rationale for decisions transparent.” Sanchez explained. Ensure that the company leaders share the thinking behind the company’s approaches and decisions. This minimizes potential conflict that may arise from policy changes, for example, but also is important when implementing existing policies in a fair manner.
- Ensure Accountability for Conflict Resolution. Ensure all employees – not just managers or HR – are accountable for resolving conflict. Managers don’t have to take care of every issue. The employees involved need to be part of the solution. HR and/or managers should mediate, however.
- Don’t Ignore the Conflict. While there are some cases where short-term avoidance is part of the long-term solution (especially for minor issues), in general, avoiding conflict won’t fix anything. It is especially important to not avoid dealing with conflict when it could escalate to violence.
- Seek to Understand. There are underlying emotions in conflict, and HR and managers need to understand what is going on at the root of the problem.
- Recognize Different Circumstances. Different circumstances and different approaches to conflict can make a huge difference, and sometimes simply recognizing what is going on is the first step towards resolution. It can also be a great way to learn about one another.