Business psychology services

Business psychology services

Collective working relationships are crucial to business success. However, like any relationship, disagreements can occur. And, unless addressed, these can adversely impact employee motivation, productivity, morale and well-being. Therefore, conflict management is an essential skill for managers. In this article, we explore the role of communication in conflict management.

The Causes of Conflict

A good team is made up of a diverse range of people. Each brings skills and strengths to the table, yet differing opinions, needs or working styles are common causes of conflict. Conflict occurs when difference is seen as an issue rather than an asset. We typically see our viewpoint, goals and approach as the ‘right way’ to get things done. So, when someone else has opposing ideas or ways of working it can cause friction.

Equally, poor communication and a highly competitive workplace culture can polarise employees. In this type of work environment, everyone is focused on protecting their interests. They view others as a threat and may place the blame on others or discriminate to defend their position.

Another cause of conflict is driven by individuals who are working together, yet have alternative end goals. For example, one individual may prioritise innovation and improvements, whilst another is focused on maximising profitability. Although there is potential for both goals to be achieved, it can feel as though one is stifling the other’s ambitions.

A Tool for Managing Conflict

According to HR Magazine*, workplace conflict is a reason for approximately 485,800 employees resigning from their roles every year. In addition, their research highlights the financial costs of breakdowns in working relationships. This data provides a strong case for managing conflict.

The sooner that disparities can be identified and addressed, the less time there is for issues to escalate. As a manager, you need to step in, actively listen and identify the cause of the dispute. Then, find a fair way to establish common ground and agreement. You also need to accept that sometimes conflicts can only be managed and not resolved.

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modelling Tool

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Modelling Tool is widely used in business psychology. It identifies five options for managing conflict.

Accommodating – this can work for minor disagreements where the outcome isn’t important and individuals are not fully invested. It is about encouraging one or more parties to back down and channel their energy into a greater priority.

Avoiding – this passive response is about keeping apart the people involved in the conflict. It might involve physically moving workspaces or reallocating workloads. It doesn’t resolve the issue, but space apart can cool tensions and help put things into perspective.

Compromising – this uses a process of mediation, where all parties can openly air opinions. They then agree to cooperate on a middle ground. It demands a willingness to give and take to move things forward. However, neither side gets their ideal outcome.

Collaborating – this demands the greatest effort but generates the best results. It is a process of understanding what each individual can contribute to collective success. And, it focuses on discovering outcomes that benefit everyone.

Competing – this is a short-term solution that will not create workplace harmony, however, it is sometimes the only way to resolve issues. Essentially, it is pitching people against each other to see who has the drive and determination to gain the upper hand. 

Are Managers Skilled in Conflict Management?

Each of the Thomas-Kilmann approaches demands effective communication from the manager. So, the next question is, do your managers have the skills to manage conflict?

 – Do employees perceive your managers as unbiased and able to give everyone a fair hearing and a just response?

 – Have your managers got the skills to get to the heart of the issue without judgement?

 – Are your managers sufficiently removed to ensure that their involvement doesn’t aggravate, rather than calm the situation?

 – Can your managers remain patient and neutral throughout the process?

 – Will you managers set boundaries and hold parties accountable to agreed actions?

This can be a big ask, especially when this is one of many tasks that they are overseeing. For this reason, it can be beneficial to bring in an external specialist. As a business psychologist, I provide impartial workshops and 1:1 sessions to address conflict. As someone not involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation, I offer an objective perspective.

Ways to Avoid Conflicts From Brewing

Some level of disagreement and challenge is healthy. It’s a sign that individuals are passionate about their work or have strong values. They may want to question how things are done or new ideas because they are keen to achieve the best outcomes. In a workplace which champions psychological safety, open discussions and differing opinions are valued because they can drive positive change.

However, it is important to monitor discussions and maintain communication to understand the line between debate and conflict.

There are certain situations when maintaining communication is especially key for minimising the risk of conflict. These include situations involving:

  • Remote and hybrid teams
  • Changes to work environment or practices, for example, when introducing new technology, or relocating the business.
  • The same individuals dominate meetings
  • Non-verbal or written communication that indicates tensions between certain team members
  • A drop in motivation or engagement levels
  • Pressure points, such as demanding clients or deadlines, seasonal peaks, cashflow issues and staff shortages

At these times, making time for open group discussions and 1:1 employee meetings are effective ways to prevent conflicts from brewing. In our workshops, we also encourage individuals to recognise their way of addressing conflict. Understanding your default response and preferred means of overcoming issues is an important step in building team dynamics.

If workplace conflicts are the cause of low morale, productivity and retention in your organisation and you would like to discuss solutions, get in touch.


* https://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/content/news/workplace-conflict-costs-the-uk-285-billion-a-year/


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