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Organisational Behaviour - Managing Conflict

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Managing conflict

Causes of conflict

Every employee has needs and certain expectations at work, and conflict could arise when people feel that these are not being met or are being ignored.

Conflict could be the result of:

* poor management

* unfair treatment

* unclear job roles

* inadequate training

* poor communication

* poor work environment

* lack of equal opportunities

* bullying and harassment

* new changes to products, organisational charts, appraisals or pay systems

Other major causes include:

* Personalities - the 'personality mix' within a team can be upset when a new member of staff joins or if two colleagues suddenly fall out. Individuals may also respond to difficult or challenging situations in an unhelpful or unproductive way.

* Needs and expectations - conflict at work can often be caused when employers ignore the needs of employees or set unrealistic expectations. For example, arranging hours that make it difficult for employees to carry out childcare responsibilities.

* Values - most people have very clear ideas about what they think is fair, and your organisation's procedures and policies must reflect this. For example, giving someone a fair hearing or explaining the reasoning behind a decision.

* Unresolved issues - for example, an employee might ask to be moved to another team because of their manager's 'aggressive' leadership style. However, the employee may have other reasons - for example, they may blame their manager for a lack of training or career progression.

* Increase in workload - sometimes conflict is caused because people feel they are being pushed too hard and that 'something has to give'.

It is important to understand the root cause of an individual's or group's unhappiness. For example, a person in a team may seem to be struggling with an unmanageable workload, but they may be resentful of another employee who appears to have less to do. It may also be a result of organisational changes, restructuring, or promotions given to other staff.

To help you manage conflict, look at the previous relationship between the employee and their manager, and their peers for signs of past conflict and feelings which may influence them.

You can put policies and procedures in place to help prevent and manage conflict. For more information see the page in this guide on preventing conflict.

Coping with change

Change can make employees feel vulnerable and uncertain, as they worry about their future career prospects. Therefore, managers should communicate and consult with employees about future changes so that they don't feel alienated and raise grievances.

Managing conflict

Preventing conflict

To minimise and prevent conflict in the workplace, you should try to learn as much as you can about why conflicts occur and develop processes to help you address them. Common action points that employers should consider are:

* developing a strategy for managing conflict with managers, employees and your representatives

* having sound policies and procedures in place

* explaining plans for change and training to managers and employees and making everyone feel involved

* listening and consulting with employees on decision-making

* rewarding fairly with pay or bonus schemes

* ensuring work safety

* ensuring that managers are properly trained and able to handle management responsibilities

For more information, see our guide on how to inform and consult your employees.

You can also improve your working environment and develop interpersonal relationships by:

* valuing employees and thinking about the business culture of the workplace

* treating people fairly

* communicating the law on harassment and discrimination

* encouraging initiative

* balancing employees personal and business needs

* asking Investors In People to assess your business and promote training and communication

It is also worth considering:

* regularly giving out employee feedback forms or questionnaires

* keeping regular channels of communication open

* knowing your employees' different personalities

Equality policies

Having a clear equality policy in your workplace may help to prevent feelings of unfair treatment, and so prevent conflict. For more information, see our page on equality and diversity policies in our guide on how to set up employment policies for your business.

Conflict between groups and individuals

Conflicts in the workplace could occur between individuals or groups.

Conflicts may arise between individuals because:

* of a clash of personalities, difference of opinion, bullying or harassment

* of an aggressive or weak management style

* some employees may feel others are treated more favourably

For more information on dealing with conflict between individuals in your workplace, see the page in this guide on managing conflict between individuals.

Conflict may arise between groups because of:

* team rivalry, disagreements or resentment

* a 'them and us' mentality between large groups of employees and their managers

* resentment



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