Conflict resolution in the workplace is often about how to deal with office politics as a manager. Managers can head off many conflicts simply by being more aware of the office politics in their areas. There is little to no training for this though.
That is because popular conflict resolution approaches ignore office politics. They focus too much on a specific need, issue or problem as the cause. In other words, resolving conflict is about putting out the fire. Managers need to learn more about how to prevent fires.
Personality Differences and Power Inequities Fuel Conflicts
Preventing fires means understanding first what fuels conflicts:
- Personality differences
- Perceived power inequities
Personality differences promote:
Perceived power inequities promote:
As a result, this means the conflict at hand is more symptom of personality differences and perceived power inequities. This is especially true if conflicts regularly occur between the same people.
Preventative Conflict Resolution in the Workplace
To make conflict resolution in the workplace focused on heading off conflict, managers need to:
- Identify potential personality differences and power inequities
- Help people understand different personalities
- Reinforce each person’s value to the team
For example, personality conflicts often occur between employees who are:
- Free-wheeling and organized
- Relaxed and conscientious
- Objective and empathic
In these cases, often saying something like, “It’s not that the person is slighting (or intruding on) you, it’s just how he is,” helps. In other words, “It’s not you. It’s him. It’s his nature.”
Perceived power inequities often occur between employees:
- Who have the same job but large disparities in skill, talents and experience
- Where one’s job plays more of supporting role to the other (i.e. operations versus sales)
- Who run rival areas such as different product lines or markets
Here managers need to reinforce the value each employee makes. It is not necessary that the other employee does. It helps. Some employees just cannot or will not do this.
No Need For Employees to Confront One Another
Whether it is teaching about personality differences or addressing perceived power inequities, managers can do this one on one. How often will vary with each personality. For instance, conscientious and empathic employees will need more of this than others will.
This form of conflict resolution in the workplace has managers play a preventative role. They can prevent fires. They can head off close to 90% of the conflicts in their areas. Their success is a function of how well they build and leverage the relationships they have with their team members.