Conflicts will continue to occur in our working lives. Let’s arm employees with the tools to resolve them before they fester into an investigation.
When unresolved conflicts continue to fester and grow, they fill the ones in dispute with hard feelings of hopelessness, anger, resentment or outrage, these conflicts then take on new dimensions. These are the types of situations that often get tossed into the employer’s Respectful Workplace Policy. Generally words like, harassment, bullying, discrimination form part of the complaint. Often at the root of the conflict is a workplace miscommunication or work issue and almost always there is some form of power imbalance between the parties.
Once the complaint is filed, employers usually are compelled to investigate the matter, either themselves or hiring outside expertise. At the end of an investigation there is a conclusion, as to whether there has been a breach to policy or not. This conclusion may resolve the issue as far as the employer is concerned, as a conclusion allows some form of employer driven action to occur, i.e. discipline, corrective action.
What is left? The feelings behind the complaint and the conflict. An investigation does not generally resolve those feelings. Frankly, an investigation shouldn’t be trying to resolve the feelings, but looking instead at the evidence of the complaint. How can those feelings behind the conflict be dealt with in the workplace? Should they be dealt with? Whose responsibility is it to deal with these feelings?
We need to back-up and relook at how unresolved conflict is addressed in the workplace. We need to support and train supervisors and managers to recognize conflicts early, and to take remedial steps towards solving the initial issue so that conflict does not stay unresolved. We need to offer employees ongoing training in how to resolve differences, workplace conflicts, to give them tools in confronting and collaborating with others to resolve conflicts before they fester. We need to offer a service to disputants of moving forward in a way that will allow them to work together day-to-day while supporting them individually to look inward and learn their part in the conflict. Conflict takes two. It may be how the other person reacts versus initiates actions, but it still takes two for conflict to occur.
It’s time to broaden our understanding of conflict, and to start looking at ways to assist those in conflicts so they learn a new skill, one that they can take forward in their working lives so they don’t fear conflict, but approach it with a more confident, collaborative manner.
Conflicts will continue to occur in our working lives. Let’s arm employees with the tools to resolve them before they fester into a formal investigation.