How to make conflict resolution work for you
GOOD conflict systems follow a few key principles. And while there is no perfect system or one-size-fits-all answer, addressing the following principles is critical to success: Acknowledge and accept that conflict will occur. Many organizations, partnerships - even personal relationships - are based on the belief that conflict will not happen, and everyone will be positive and happy evermore. This, of course, simply isn't reality. A good system openly acknowledges that there will be conflict, knowing that well-managed conflict increases trust, commitment and levels of achievement.
- Everyone needs to know there is a system for managing conflict. There must be a clear, overt system that is communicated to everyone, and which everyone knows is available. When there isn't common agreement on what to do when conflict erupts, the conflict tends to go underground and undermines the level of trust in the team or the organization.
- Regularly ask employees how they feel about conflict in the organization. Management should regularly ask employees if they feel safe, feel treated fairly, and feel that the system for resolving conflict is working. This doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, but it should, like regular customer surveys, be a cornerstone of helping the organization continually build a trust-based, high-performance workplace.
- The system must not only be fair, it must be seen to be fair. It is fairly obvious to say that the system must be fair, but it is hard to ensure the system is also perceived to be fair by all employees. Many times it isn't the outcome that is seen to be unfair; rather, the process of management retaining all power and making all decisions unilaterally is perceived to be unfair. Care must be taken to ensure all stakeholders see that the process is fair, in order to build trust and credibility.
- The system should be accessible, and safe to use. Accessible can mean many things, such as avoiding prohibitive paperwork or an overly bureaucratic process. It also means having numerous ways to access the system, such as a direct complaint to the boss, an anonymous complaint (with certain restrictions), a person to talk to outside the employee's chain of command, an advocate to represent the complainant, an 800 number to call, etc. Good access builds trust in the system. In addition, the system should be safe to use, with a clear, formal statement from management of no reprisals or penalties for lodging a complaint or using the system.