Chapter 15: Conflict Resolution
In most conflicts, neither party is right or wrong; instead, different perceptions collide to create disagreement. Conflict is natural and it's up to you to respond to conflict situations quickly and professionally. Conflict can be very positive; if you deal with it openly, you can strengthen your work unit by correcting problems. Conflicting views give you a chance to learn more about yourself, explore views of others, and develop productive relationships. Clear and open communication is the cornerstone of successful conflict resolution.
Managing diversity well can enhance conflict resolution; Chapter 12, Managing Diversity in the Workplace, offers information and resources in this important area.
Dealing With Anger
When you meet with someone who is angry, you can use the tools of effective listening to help defuse this anger. Nevertheless, when anger is directed at you, it is much more difficult to respond definitively, because your own emotions are usually involved.
To effectively defuse anger, keep in mind the needs of the angry speaker:
- To vent. An angry person needs to let off steam and release the anger that may have been brewing for a long time use your communication skills to allow the person to do this.
- To get the listener's attention. An angry person wants to know that you are paying attention use your body language to show this.
- To be heard. An angry person wants someone to listen to her point of view acknowledge the feelings you hear so that the speaker knows you appreciate how angry she is.
- To be understood. An angry person wants someone to appreciate how she feels try to empathize with her experience so that she feels you understand the situation, and acknowledge her right to feel the way she does.
When you're listening to an angry person:
- Be attentive and patient. Keep in mind that she will become less angry as you let her express herself.
- Be sincere. Empathy and validation must be both honest and genuine.
- Be calm. Try to remove your own emotions from the discussion. Remember that an angry person may say inflammatory things in the heat of the moment, but you do not have to react angrily.
By resolving conflicts skillfully, you can:
- Gain cooperation from team members
- Improve performance and productivity
- Reduce stress and preserve integrity
- Solve problems as quickly as possible
- Improve relationships and teamwork
- Enhance creativity
- Increase staff morale
Resolving Conflict Situations
To manage conflict effectively you must be a skilled communicator. That includes creating an open communication environment in your unit by encouraging employees to talk about work issues. Listening to employee concerns will foster an open environment. Make sure you really understand what employees are saying by asking questions and focusing on their perception of the problem. To learn more about communication skills, see Chapter 13, Communication.
Whether you have two employees who are fighting for the desk next to the window or one employee who wants the heat on and another who doesn't, your immediate response to conflict situations is essential. Here are some tips you can use when faced with employees who can't resolve their own conflicts.
- Acknowledge that a difficult situation exists. Honesty and clear communication play an important role in the resolution process. Acquaint yourself with what's happening and be open about the problem.
- Let individuals express their feelings. Some feelings of anger and/or hurt usually accompany conflict situations. Before any kind of problem-solving can take place, these emotions should be expressed and acknowledged.
- Define the problem. What is the stated problem? What is the negative impact on the work or relationships? Are differing personality styles part of the problem? Meet with employees separately at first and question them about the situation.
- Determine underlying need. The goal of conflict resolution is not to decide which person is right or wrong; the goal is to reach a solution that everyone can live with. Looking first for needs, rather than solutions, is a powerful tool for generating win/win options. To discover needs, you must try to find out why people want the solutions they initially proposed. Once you understand the advantages their solutions have for them, you have discovered their needs.
- Find common areas of agreement, no matter how small:
- Agree on the problem
- Agree on the procedure to follow
- Agree on worst fears
- Agree on some small change to give an experience of success
- Find solutions to satisfy needs:
- Problem-solve by generating multiple alternatives
- Determine which actions will be taken
- Make sure involved parties buy into actions. (Total silence may be a sign of passive resistance.) Be sure you get real agreement from everyone.
- Determine follow-up you will take to monitor actions. You may want to schedule a follow-up meeting in about two weeks to determine how the parties are doing.
- Determine what you'll do if the conflict goes unresolved. If the conflict is causing a disruption in the department and it remains unresolved, you may need to explore other campus resources. The Problem Resolution Center, and / or the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program may provide other interventions to resolve the problem. In some cases the conflict becomes a performance issue, and may become a topic for performance appraisals or disciplinary action. (See Chapter 22, Taking Disciplinary Action.)
Mediation is an option to help resolve and manage conflicts as early as possible. The Campus Mediation Program provides a confidential and neutral setting for individuals to meet to discuss issues and develop mutually acceptable solutions. Mediation at UCSF emphasizes open communication and problem-solving and is facilitated by trained mediators. Individuals who participate in mediation do so voluntarily.
Mediation may be considered when a grievance has been filed by a represented employee. Grievances involving "working relationships", interpersonal communication or uncertainty regarding expectations are examples of problems typically considered for mediation. Mediation is not the formal venue for negotiating formal discipline without the involvement of department management and the appropriate Labor and Employee Relations Analyst. If all parties agree (the manager, employee, Labor and Employee Relations and the bargaining unit), it is possible to "stop the clock" on grievance processing so that parties can use mediation to determine whether they can reach a mutually acceptable resolution.
You are welcome to contact the Office of the Ombuds at any time to discuss whether a situation or problem may benefit from mediation or assist with strategizing and identifying other resources.