0 Handling Conflict - Part 3: Responding well to Conflicts we cannot Avoid

In Part 1 of this series, Performance Consultant and Conference Speaker Frank Newberry explored how conflict in the workplace can bring positive outcomes with it.

In Part 2, Frank looked at how conflict develops and how we can nip it in the bud. He also revealed the conflict handling methods most turfcare professionals prefer to use, i.e. they avoid it or to give in and let the other person win the conflict.

In Part 3 (the final part), Frank considers ways in which we can prepare for and respond effectively to a conflict at work that we may not be able to avoid

Different Types of Conflict Situations

When I have asked in the past what different types of conflict situations are being faced by turfcare people in the workplace - the following list emerged:

1. Serious disagreements with management, customers, colleagues and staff over decisions, policies and practices
2. Disciplinary matters where the accused person feels strongly about the issue
3. Serious disagreements with another person who is a more confident speaker
4. Disagreements with staff over what constitutes poor performance or bad behaviour
5. Bullying and harassment when both are seen as okay behaviour by the other person
6. Disciplinary matters where the person 'in the wrong' is argumentative or in denial

Typical Successful Responses to Conflict Situations

When I have asked what are successful responses to conflict situations in the workplace, the following list (a mixture of prevention and cure) emerges:

1. Explaining confidently why certain tasks are done in certain ways. In one case it took the turfcare professional two years before management finally stopped bullying him and gave him the respect he deserved. He puts this down to managers feeling that they must be right. They no longer feel that way and are now prepared to negotiate over big decisions.

2. Stick to protocol and go through procedures in a 'matter of fact' way. In the case of people lying about their lateness or last minute sick absences this involved listening to all sorts of excuses, but the turfcare manager focused on the problem and not the 'difficult' personality that the individual possessed.

3. Listen to all complaints whether they seem justified or not and no matter from whom they emanate. In the case of work team conflicts caused by people feeling exploited or treated unfairly - resolving these issues should be seen as an opportunity, not a chore. Turning a blind eye to small misdemeanours only leads to bigger misdemeanours and a lack of trust. Work groups must have tight and equitable supervision.

4. Clear work instructions that are up to date with legislation and best practice. These should be developed to protect staff and the vehicles and equipment they use at work. Staff should use checklists to ensure that they have everything they need when they go out to work on each different job. Staff should make every effort to not interrupt or interfere with play at any time - other than in an emergency situation etc.

One highly skilled turfcare manager reported to me that he subscribed to the 'Brian Clough School of Management' - "If someone disagrees with me we talk it over; I listen to his point of view - then we agree that I was right all along".

The same, very confident, person also explained that some difficult senior managers are only around for a short term of office. Sometimes it can even work to just wait until they leave.

Let's look now at some sensible approaches we can all take to resolve conflict at work. I want to start with an agenda that either side can suggest for a 'face to face' discussion.

Critical Steps - an agenda to be 'followed' to achieve a positive outcome

1. Clarify everyone's views, needs and wishes

2. Accept* views, needs and wishes

3. Look for creative solutions

4. Resolve by agreeing solution

*It should be pointed out that 'accepting' that someone has a valid viewpoint is not the same as agreeing that they are right. A lot of conflict arises and is perpetuated when people feel that have been put 'in the wrong'.

Most people do not claim to be right 'all of the time', but no one wants to be 'in the wrong' at any time! Being in the wrong makes people feel very uncomfortable and defensive.

By accepting that they have a right to a viewpoint we avoid putting people in the wrong and reduce, at a stroke, a major cause of conflict between people.

Now, let's look at ways we can prepare for and respond effectively to a conflict at work that we perhaps cannot avoid.

Top Ten Tips for Handling Conflict

1. Recognise that conflict is a normal part of all relationships

2. Seek to fully understand opposing viewpoints - don't put anyone in the wrong and don't let anyone put you in the wrong

3. Resist an immediate response. Don't strike out immediately to oppose or take sides; it polarises conflicting positions, making communication difficult

4. Communicate as if a problem is shared, not just 'their' problem

5. Be aware of your feelings and keep them under control

6. When conflict becomes intense and emotions strong, sometimes a break is helpful to allow emotions to cool

7. Define and agree on the problem

8. Keep focused on the most significant issues of the conflict

9. Focus on issues, not on people

10. Find those things you can agree on

Now, finally, let's look at how you should behave and what sort of things should you focus on when you find yourself in a conflict situation.

The Four Golden Rules to follow during conflict situations at work

The golden rules to be used by you in conflict situations are:

1. Show recognition - use the person's name throughout all dealings with them

2. Show understanding - paraphrase and summarise your understanding of what they are saying

3. Give respect - indicate respect by being attentive and polite during discussions with them

4. Make process suggestions - suggest processes in a helpful and business-like way.

Processes might be things like:

- Sitting down together for a quiet chat, maybe away from the workplace
- Having a 'cooling off' period and then 'getting together' later
- Using an agenda - similar to the critical steps above
- Reviewing the Discipline Code together
- Setting small goals that result in early progress
- Getting opposing sides to recall when they have worked well in the past

So, my best wishes to you as you seek to resolve conflict situations in the workplace. You don't have to be a great speaker to resolve conflict, but you may well have to be a good listener.

I am grateful to, amongst others, Richard Barker, Kerran Daly MG, Mika Nurminen and John Ross MG for their kind contributions to my research. In addition to their thoughts on the topic, my work provides me with regular opportunities to discuss conflict handling strategies with managers and staff in the turf care sector, both in the UK and abroad.

Frank Newberry has been helping people in the turfcare sector to get better results for over 20 years. His clients include BIGGA, the IOG and Pitchcare.com. If you are facing a conflict situation, and if you think it might help to speak to someone, you can contact Frank by e-mail or by telephone via the contact tab of his personal website which is www.franknewberry.com

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