The Conflict Mediator’s Guide To Resolving Team Conflicts In The Workplace

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Team conflicts are natural in our everyday life – both at work and at home. They can be confusing, constructive, and even charming. Conflicts in the work environment are a complex and extensive topic that we will discuss in this publication.

The concept of conflict

We can define conflict as a process in which perception leads to a violation of the desired state of harmony and stability in an interdependent world.

How can you prove that conflict is a process? First, it occurs gradually under the influence of certain conditions and the interaction of various elements. Imagine it as an ice cream cone with lots of ice cream balls.

ice cream balls

The first one is always a misunderstanding. The next ice cream balls are differences in values, points of view, interests, and interpersonal differences. So, conflict is a process because it depends on conditions and external interactions.

It all starts with one party perceiving the other as opposing or negatively affecting its interests. This situation can end in several ways – competition, cooperation, compromise, or avoidance.

As it is a process for a conflict to occur, it needs certain conditions and interaction between two or more people. With this in mind, we can derive an even more specific definition:

Conflict is a process involving at least two people who demonstrate obstructive behaviour and the incompatibility of goals. This leads to a violation of the desired stability and harmony in their relationship.

Characteristics of the conflict

The process is a set of activities that lead to some results. Its course may include the roles, responsibilities, tools, and management controls needed to achieve results. Each process has four characteristics:

  1. It is measurable.
  2. Gives concrete results
  3. They are delivered to customers or stakeholders.
  4. The process occurs/responds to specific events.

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As a process, the conflict also has its characteristics:

Conflict is inevitable

It can exist anywhere for the reason that every two people have their differences. However, conflict can be minimised, diverted, and/or resolved, and although inevitable, it can be constructive.

Conflict is part of the life cycle

Individuals, groups, and organisations have unlimited needs and different values but limited resources. The industrial world is like a group of young people, where everyone tries to stand out and be a leader. This incompatibility inevitably leads to conflicts caused by limited resources such as power, authority, business opportunities, the capital.

In conflict, perceptions transcend reality

The conflict begins to exist when it is perceived and realised by the participants; otherwise, it does not exist. In interpersonal interaction, perception is more important than reality. What we perceive and affects our behaviour, attitudes, and communication. Conflict may not be a problem, but if it is poorly managed, it becomes one.

The opposition between at least two people

One party to the conflict must perceive or do something that the other party does not like or wants.

Interdependence and interaction

There must be some real or perceived interdependence. Without interdependence, there can be no interaction between us. Conflict arises when some kind of interaction takes place.

The conflict is not one-dimensional

It appears in different ways according to the degree of severity and ability. Conflict management in the workplace is a specialised area that requires certain skills. It is a great idea to develop your ability to deal with conflicts at work, but some challenging situations are recommended to be resolved by an experienced mediator.

team conflicts

Are there good and bad team conflicts?

If we go back to the definition of conflict and apply it to human behaviour, we see that it can range from mild disagreement to emotional and even physical confrontation.

There may be an indefinite number of reasons for conflict, but it is a driving force for change in each of them. The features by which you can distinguish a good conflict are:

First, it produces new ideas when the affected team members use their problem-solving abilities and create a solution of their own. Constructive conflict enables people to expand their skills by encouraging creativity and improving productivity before, during, and after the process.

On the opposite side is a bad conflict. In any attempt to resolve or find a compromise, each participant is injured. Such a bad process reduces the energy or morale of the team. This undermines their productivity and contributes to poor performance in the workplace. In extreme cases, it can create destructive behaviour.

Resolving Team Conflicts

How to distinguish between justified and unjustified conflict?

When you analyse whether your team members agree with the team goals and your methods for achieving them, you determine whether a conflict is justified or unjustified.

In case of justified conflict, the colleagues do not agree with the set goal:

For example:

‘The amount of work to achieve 15% above the target profit margin is unnecessary! No need to spend resources on testing!’

When an unjustified conflict occurs, the members of the team agree with the stated goal, but do not agree on the way to achieve it:

  • I believe that integration should be done before testing, not testing before integration!
  • We can improve our creativity, but not with this type of team building sessions.
  • Our focus has dropped, but not changing the office will improve things.

What causes conflict in the team?

As you know, in addition to interdependent participants, something must happen- interaction for there to be a conflict. Several factors can cause conflict in the team:

  • Poor communication or lack of such;
  • Lack of problem-solving skills;
  • Lack of clarity regarding goals, tasks, individual roles;
  • Uncertainty/lack of resources and sources of help and support;
  • Poor time management;
  • Lack of leadership and management;
  • Team members are bored and uninterested;
  • Personal problems; and
  • Stress and tension.

As there are a staggering number of reasons, it is more efficient to summarise them in several main categories: Team environment, cultural differences, project priorities, personality.

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Top Traits For Resolving Team Conflict In The Workplace

You do not need to be an HR or relationship manager to resolve disputes. A good mediator has a set of skills that help him deal with (un) justified team conflicts, good and bad, and the accompanying factors.

A list of the 5 best qualities that effective mediators bring to conflict resolution

Emotional intelligence

This is the ability to step into other people’s shoes and understand the emotions of both parties. People who are embroiled in conflict are often clouded in consciousness because of the emotions that rage within them.

To be a successful mediator in the workplace, you need to be able to stay calm, control the emotional response of each employee, compassionately talk to him, and be impartial. Otherwise, you will be drawn into the rage, anger, or fear shown by the conflicting parties.

The ability to notice causal links

An important part of resolving a dispute is to identify the aspects that can reconcile the parties as well as those that cause conflict. As a skilled mediator, you need to find common ground between colleagues and understand the opposite perspective.

In most cases, you will need to set the tone for the conversation. During the discussion, you will find the problems that will help gather employees only if you listen carefully, understand the main problems, and compare each person’s goals.

Experience in conflict resolution

First, an effective mediator must have a general work experience that gives him an idea of working relationships, leadership, workplace psychology, and management theory.

It’s good to have theoretical knowledge, but unless you can relate it to real-life situations, it won’t resolve the workplace conflict.

Second, like everything else, practice is king. The more conflict scenarios you have had to unravel, the better expertise you will bring to the problem. The best mediators have experience in a wide range of team conflicts in some industries and various reasons.

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Developed communication skills

Conflict resolution is related to communication – verbal and nonverbal:

Learn to extract the most essential details from employees, which may not be very good

Practice the technique of reformulating them in a way that all participants will understand.

Along with listening, focused communication is essential for achieving results. If you fail to get to the heart of the matter quickly, the employees involved will lose faith in the process and withdraw their cooperation.

Finding sensible solutions

If you want to be a good mediator in the workplace, help employees in conflict situations find mutually acceptable and pragmatic solutions.

You have to believe that these compromise solutions are realistic and will work. At the same time, clearly define who and what will be responsible for pursuing these decisions. This may include tasks or initiatives for managers or leaders outside the conflict situation, but also those assigned to employees involved in the mediation process.

Conflict management concept

The principle is that not every conflict can be resolved in a positive way for everyone, but learning conflict management methodologies can significantly reduce the incidence of unfavourable outcomes.

Each member of an organisation must-have techniques to:

  • Minimises team conflicts
  • Solves problems caused by conflict before quarrelling becomes a major obstacle to the work process.

That is why the team must be able to distinguish the types of conflicts.

Types of participation-based conflicts

Conflicts can be intra-personal(when you fight with yourself), interpersonal (between two people) and organisational.

Organisational conflict can be considered in 2 aspects – intra-organizational and inter-organizational.

Inter-organizational conflict arises between two or more organisations, and intra-organizational is that in business. It can be studied by level (department, work team, individuals) and can be classified as interpersonal, intragroup, and intergroup.

Interpersonal conflict refers to the conflict between two or more individuals from the same or different groups at the same or different levels in an organisation. They should not play the role of a representative of the group of which they are a part, but to present themselves and their vision.

Interpersonal conflict can be divided into intragroup and intergroup conflict. Intragroup occurs between group members or between subgroups in a group), and intergroup conflict arises between individual groups or units in an organisation.

Types of conflicts based on the scope

Conflicts can be essential and affective. We associate the essential conflicts with work, not with individuals, while affective conflict stems from emotions.

Substantial conflict resembles justifications because it can be related to the facts of a situation, the method or the means to achieve a solution to a problem, the goals, and the values. It involves a conflict of tasks and conflict of processes in its scope – the problem is how to do something.

Procedural conflicts may include disagreements over factors such as meeting dates and times, individual tasks, responsibilities of team members, group organisation and leadership, and more. Unresolved conflicts of this type can hamper work on joint projects, making it difficult to make collaborative decisions.

On the other hand, an affective conflict is associated with interpersonal relationships or incompatibilities and focuses on emotions and frustration between the parties.

Human emotions and behaviours are unpredictable if not controlled successfully. This makes affective conflicts destructive to the organisation. They almost always interfere with collaborative decision-making and make colleagues negative, irritable, suspicious, and resentful.

If you can tell the difference between good and bad conflict, you will understand that the essential is good and the affective is bad.

Types of results-based conflicts

Depending on the effect on the affected parties, the conflict can be constructive or destructive.

The easiest way to determine this is to consider whether it encourages a creative process of finding a solution or restricts participants. Destructive conflicts are also known as dysfunctional conflicts because they prevent the group from achieving its goals.

They divert attention from other important activities, undermine morale, tarnish corporate culture, polarise people and groups, and all this can even lead to the company’s bankruptcy.

Constructive conflicts are also known as functional conflicts because they support group goals and help improve performance. Conflict is constructive when it leads to clarification of important problems and issues through teamwork.

Types of group-based conflicts

Conflicts can be distributive and integrative. The former allocates a fixed amount of positive outcomes/resources, whereby one side will eventually win, and the other will lose, even if it wins some compromise.

Teams that use integrative conflicts see the problem as a chance to integrate the two groups’ needs and concerns and achieve the best possible result. This type of conflict has a greater emphasis on compromise or the so-called. Win-win situations. It has been found that it leads to consistently better task-related results than distributive conflict.

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Types of conflicts based on strategy

Conflicts can be competitive and cooperative. Competitive conflict is cumulative, starting with one factor but gradually accumulating. This initial factor is a pretext rather than a cause of conflict because this type is based on one individual’s desire to win the battle/dispute over another individual, even if the victory costs more and causes more pain than not fighting at all.

In a situation of cooperation, the goals are so connected that if one sinks, everyone sinks. In a competitive situation, if one swims, the other must sink. The cooperation approach is aligned with the process of interest-based or integrative bargaining, which makes the parties seek profitable solutions.

Types of conflicts based on rights and interests

Conflict of rights means that people are granted certain rights by law, by contract, prior agreement, or established practice. If the right is violated, it will lead to conflict. Such a conflict is settled by legal decision or arbitration, not by negotiation.

Conflict of interest means that a person or group requires certain privileges, but there is no law or right. Such a dispute can only be resolved through negotiation or collective bargaining.

The stages of workplace conflict

After knowing the different types of conflicts, you need to learn its different stages to deal with it in its infancy. Conflict resolution is easy if you find the main problem and the reason it develops in the beginning before things get rough. The most common stages are:

  • Participants acknowledge the perceived lack of resources, diversity of language, or culture. Here sensitivity can lead to conflict.
  • If there are serious clashes between two or more groups, the hidden conflict in a competitive situation may develop.
  • The incident can cause a hidden conflict in an open conflict.
  • Once the problem is resolved, the potential for conflict remains and is greater than before if one side realises that the resolution has led to a disadvantage.

Workplace conflict resolution in six-step

The following six-step process is proposed to resolve the conflict:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Collect data to support the definition of the problem
  3. Analyse the data to get valuable information
  4. Choose the best solution.
  5. Implement the solution
  6. Keep refining until you succeed

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How to use a communication model as a framework for resolving team conflicts

The model is called L.A.P.S. The abbreviation comes from the first letters of the verbs listen, ask, paraphrase and summarise.

The first step is to listen actively and be open and receptive. Hear everything said by the parties involved, not just what you want to hear because of bias. Show the speaker that you are listening by making eye contact, asking questions where needed, standing up straight, and with outstretched shoulders – a complete open vision. Be careful not to cross the line between empathy and compassion! You have to demonstrate the first because with the second you can affect your interlocutor.

Stage two is ‘Ask’, where do you have to decide if you need more information? This stage is intertwined with the element of active listening in phase one, where you ask precise questions according to what your colleague is telling you.

Once the participants in the conflict have spoken, you have to paraphrase what you have heard in your own words to check if everything has become clear to you.

TIP on how to resolve team conflicts: Focus on your understanding of what the essential component of the aggressor’s message is.

In the last stage, you have to summarise everything said so far. Be brief and precise as you revisit what happened and suggest a potential follow-up.

Workplace team conflicts – creativity, dynamics, growth

The way a conflict is managed determines whether it will help people learn and develop, or break someone’s relationship. Respect differences in people’s positions and work together to prevent it. Turn the conflict into an engine for creating a dynamic and creative atmosphere in the team. It is important to remember that a conflict-free workplace is not necessarily a good thing. Treat these situations with calmness, speed, and flexibility. Allow your people to solve the problems themselves and see how magic becomes a reality.

by Vasilena Vasileva

A firm believer in team culture, creative team-building games & that inspiration comes within.

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