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Working Wise - Workplace Conflict

Dear Working Wise,

I thought I could work with just about anyone, but lately I’ve been clashing with the head of another department over resources. Do you have any advice?  
Signed, Conflicted

June 21, 2017

Dear Conflicted,

Differences of opinion can be positive when they create opportunities to improve the organization or workplace. But left unresolved, conflict can increase stress and lower morale, which can affect productivity, reduce customer satisfaction and increase staff turnover.

You may be able to resolve a workplace issue by talking it through with your co-workers in an informal, positive way. For more information and suggestions, read the Handling People Problems at Work.

If you’re wrestling with a more difficult conflict, you may need to try a more structured approach like issue-based problem-solving. The Let’s Talk publication explains issue-based problem solving.

This six-step approach brings together everyone involved in the conflict to talk about the issue:

  1. Explore the issues - Identify issues by using concrete, identifiable examples. Ask questions like: Do we have all the details? Is everything out in the open? Do we agree on what we need to talk about? Do we understand how these issues are affecting other people?
  2. Understand interests - Everyone involved has needs, wants, and fears. Focus on their needs (their interests) instead of their wants (positions). The best solution to the problem is the one that satisfies the most interests. Share your own interests on the issue and why. Ask open ended questions to find out what their interests are. Ask why they have a specific position/opinion to discover their interest. Ask probing questions to understand their fears. Focus on areas of common ground without losing sight of different and opposing interests.
  3. Develop options - Brainstorm possible solutions that satisfy the interests. Don’t judge any options until you run out of ideas.
  4. Choose a solution - Ask the group to choose a solution that meets the most interests.
  5. Implement the solution - Decide as a group what needs to be done, how the solution will be evaluated, who will do what, what support they will receive, when it will be done and how they will be accountable for following through on the plan.
  6. Evaluate the solution - Measure the success of your solution and report back to the group on its success or the need to develop a new solution.

You may also want to engage the services of a conflict-resolution practitioner or professional facilitator who are trained to help others find solutions without taking sides.

Issue-based problem solving is a commonsense approach to resolving workplace conflicts before they become complex and costly. Everyone wins when you listen and respect others while working towards a solution.

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto\mediaphotos

Working Wise is a syndicated newspaper column prepared by the Government of Alberta to answer work-related questions from Albertans. Do you have a work-related question? You can send it to Charles Strachey (charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca), a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services.

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