Kill conflict with more talk

There are numerous ways to deal with conflict. My personal choice is to close my eyes and run away. This is not wise. First of all, you tend to trip over things and injure yourself.

There are numerous ways to deal with conflict. My personal choice is to close my eyes and run away. This is not wise. First of all, you tend to trip over things and injure yourself.

Metaphorically speaking however, this is what many bosses do when faced with conflict, and it's no surprise that it fixes nothing. Like so many other situations we've looked at over recent weeks, communication is a key issue.

As DB Breweries' IS manager Herman van Krieken says we don't communicate enough.

"And when we do too much it's still not enough," he says.

Carter Holt Harvey director of IS Jeremy Fleming works in an open plan area which he says allows him to get a feel for the general atmosphere.

"It makes you reasonably accessible so people are more inclined to talk and it's much easier to sense how people are feeling."

You also need to have regular and close contact with teams and individuals, including formal one-on-one reviews, he says.

Montana Wines IT manager Elena Wong says her company has a "total honesty" approach.

"In the IT department, we have a meeting every morning where everybody is given the opportunity to speak, uninterrupted, say what they're doing, what their concerns are. If they're having issues with people or technology then they can speak up."

At DB Van Krieken operates in a similar environment.

"If there's a problem, people very quickly go and speak with the people concerned."

Fleming says one way to prevent conflict is to ensure people and teams have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, and what they are accountable for.

"One of the easiest ways of creating conflict is when people don't know what they or their colleagues are meant to be doing."

He also says people need to understand what their department or business is trying to achieve.

People making decisions on territory that's not theirs is a big source of conflict, says Van Krieken.

All managers agreed that conflict isn't hard to spot. You'll notice an increase in stress levels in the workplace, you may catch rumours going around and Fleming says the people involved may seem less committed and productivity might suffer.

A telltale sign for Wong is simply a lack of eye contact, but signs include people missing deadlines, not contributing to or even making meetings - and being late to work and leaving early.

Some managers believe a little conflict is healthy, but not these managers.

Fleming says he doesn't have a problem with a bit of tension but emphasises that's different from conflict.

"Tension can be creative and empowering; it gives people a sense of excitement. Conflict is destructive so you can't leave it."

Wong once tried to leave conflict to sort itself out.

"Things just festered. So I just don't let it happen anymore. If something is bugging me or the people here, it's sorted out - we sit down and talk about it. If you've got something to say, say it."

People will end up leaving if conflict is allowed to fester Van Krieken says.

"[They think] if my boss can't deal with it or won't deal with this I'll find my luck elsewhere."

The IT managers agreed there are many things to stay clear of when it comes to dealing with conflict.

Fleming says imposing solutions is a bad method.

"If the manager says: 'Right, I'm going to step in here and sort this out and I'm going to do it this way,' you might solve some of it in the short-term, but the people who have the conflict in the first place still haven't dealt with it - they're still there."

He says people need to be trained to deal with conflict and help can be brought in if that doesn't work.

Counter-attacking is another bad solution Van Krieken says.

"But it's so easy to do - it's a reactive thing ."

IT managers should be aware of dealing with their own stresses and how that it affects staff, says Fleming.

He says managers should be conscious of their behaviour because it has a major impact on how people perceive the workplace and their own behaviour.

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