The workplace setting is a hotbed for conflict, due to the dynamics and interdependency of employers, employees and relevant third parties. It is therefore important to recognise and address sources of conflict before it affects people’s lives and workplace productivity.

Thomas International’s head of psychology, El-Karien van der Linde, explains that organisations should have effective conflict-resolution practices and robust conflict-handling cultures in place. In these environments, it will be easier to challenge without escalating to conflict.

In terms of SHEQ conflict directly impacts employee well-being and may impact efforts to instill good business practice in this regard. Tangible business impacts, such as sick leave, are less common, but measurable business impacts are seen in employee motivation and productivity.

Therefore, it is important to have a balanced suite of options and solutions available for conflict resolution. Organisations can become more resilient by focusing on the facts, paying attention, adapting to personal styles, asking questions, deciding how to act and learning to empathise.

Thomas International SA suggests following basic steps to resolve conflict:

1. Stay calm.
2. Refrain from telling the other person to calm down.
3. Allow the venting of steam and take time out before raising the subject again.

It is important to recognise conflict for what it is – one person’s idea conflicts with another person’s idea. Conflict conjures up a picture packed with negativity but, rather than thinking about it and allowing the other party to fester, action must be taken as soon as possible. That being said, solid preparation is key when having a face-to-face discussion with a colleague.

One should also be a good listener and listen with the intent to understand. It is important to keep an open and questioning mind but reserve judgement and refrain from rehashing past incidents. One should expect to make concessions and negotiate to achieve a workable solution. Lastly, paraphrase to ensure clarity so that the other person feels understood.

Personal profiling tools can provide insight that will benefit the process of conflict handling. Understanding individual and team profiles allow an organisation to understand what frustrates people, how people react under pressure, what behaviour can be detected and expected, and how to communicate with different and diverse people and groups.

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