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Conflicts are everywhere, and the workplace is no exception. Whether between colleagues or between people of different authority levels, conflicts may be subtle, but they are still present. It's best to learn how to recognize and manage them before they cause too much damage.

 

Types of conflict

There are several classifications of conflict. As they overlap in reality, we have grouped them to make them easier to understand, while reflecting work environments as closely as possible.

 

As opposed to open conflicts (war, lawsuit, etc.), latent conflicts are not visible, but are marked by hostility and tension between the people involved. Often linked to communication problems, these conflicts are difficult to perceive from the outside, but they are tiring for those who experience them. They refrain from expressing their discomfort for fear of causing a crisis, but an argument can break out over a minor inconvenience in a stressful situation. These conflicts undermine the work atmosphere and adversely affect performance.

 

Personality conflicts are the best-known and most frequently cited. For example, two different personalities, one analytical and the other performance-oriented, are likely to clash in project management, especially as deadlines approach.

 

Power conflicts arise when one person seeks to influence the other to serve their own interests, while protecting themselves from being controlled. This happens between colleagues when roles are unclear, and between managers when they have to share limited resources, or when their priorities diverge. Topics of conflict can also include the preferred style of leadership and the race to obtain a higher position.

 

Cognitive or value conflicts refer to each individual's perception of reality. Conflicts based on opinion, culture or religion fall into this category. Everyone holds on to the vision with which they identify from an early age. To have one's value system called into question represents a threat. This is the underlying reason for the violence that can emerge from such deviations.

 

Finally, affective conflicts are linked to emotions: jealousy, fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, humiliation and so on. These emotional conflicts are not apparent, but the person experiencing them is constantly thinking about them. The consequences can be destructive in the long term, as you unjustly accuse your peers, harass your subordinates and continually justify your every action.

 

The main difficulty in managing conflicts

It may seem easy to manage a conflict: find the source of the problem, apply the right solution and you're done!  However, this is often easier said or thought than done, and rarely works in practice. Why is that?

 

Because humans are complex beings (as you already know). So managing conflict involves managing people whose emotions are delicate and sometimes contradictory. The process takes time, discipline, perseverance and certain skills.

 

Escalating conflict: recognizing it so you can act in time

Following a disagreement, communication problems ensue: difficulties in understanding each other, misunderstandings and tension. Then comes a surge of non-verbal aggression, sometimes accompanied by defensive language. 

To defend themselves, the people involved seek support from their colleagues. Clans may form, and confrontation sets in, often emotionally charged. The result is escalating hostility, intimidation, manipulation and verbal attacks that damage relationships.

This situation ends in a deadlock. A breakdown in communication occurs, and there is no longer any possibility of resolving the problem amicably. The parties are frustrated and can see no way out, and this is the breaking point that can lead to irreversible action.

 

Conflict management strategies

Avoidance. This is one of the worst behaviours you can adopt in the face of conflict: denying it or putting it off will require more effort and more time to deal with it, because the problem will have grown.

 

Authority. The opposite of avoidance, here you impose your solution. This power relationship can be useful in emergency situations, but this win-lose relationship will result in the creation of new arguments if you use it too frequently.

 

Compromise. This is the middle ground between your expectations and those of your employees. Everyone is half satisfied. In the short term, this strategy calms tempers, but in the longer term it can lead to frustration and new conflicts.

 

Accommodation. This is a good way of putting an end to a problem when the stakes are low. However, it must not undermine your authority or leadership. 

 

Collaboration. This is the most constructive strategy, and should be implemented as often as possible. It generates win-win results by stimulating creativity and innovation in a participative climate where everyone feels listened to and encouraged to take part in decision-making.

 

Return on investment

Conflict management requires time and learning on the part of your managers. They have to question their own ways of leading, communicating and negotiating. But by developing their interpersonal skills through active listening and openness to others, they help to strengthen the bonds within their team. 

 

In other words, time invested in personal growth translates into organizational development. Collaborative management boosts performance and paves the way for the changes your company needs to make for its future growth.

 

At Bedard Human Resources, we can help you manage conflicts that are detrimental to your organization, conduct mediation sessions or carry out investigations, particularly in the case of workplace harassment. Don’t hesitate to contact Stéphane Pépin by email at spepin@bedardressources.com for more information on our HR services.

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