Conflicted about conflict?

Posted on 12th December 2018

As we have said repeatedly people are people, but not all people are the same. The problem that we have as employers is that we put a group people together – sometimes family members and sometime strangers – and ask that they spend much of their waking week working together harmoniously. Now this may work for some, some of the time, but in our experience (and if you’re reading this, probably yours too) it will not happen all of the time.

In order to prepare you for the inevitable, this blog will hopefully provide you with some guidance around conflict; the good, the bad and the downright no-no’s… and how to deal with it.



The definition of conflict, in whichever form you look it up, usually within its description uses words such as;

  • Prolonged
  • Controversy
  • Between parties

None of those words on their own are concerning but link them together and I think that we can agree it doesn’t bode well.

There are situations where short bouts of conflict can benefit an organisation. This is normally in areas where conflicting ideas can be discussed and debated in order to reach an agreement. And if harnessed correctly can sometimes generate new ideas and resolve any confusion or dissent surrounding a particular idea.

However, even situations that started out as positive still need to be managed effectively to ensure that there are no unresolved aspects that may carry over and cause any future issues.


Noticing conflict…

This is the first issue. The eye rolling, the sighing, the small little indications of frustration between colleagues, yes, that’s conflict. Our advice is to tackle it immediately before the small things become the dreaded ‘banter’ but with a toxic undercurrent.

Our advice is just to take an individual aside and ask if there as an issue that you need to know about as you have noticed the behaviour. If the individual is adamant that there isn’t an issue, then just remind them that their behaviour has the potential to cause conflict and so you would appreciate it if they stopped! Keep a note on their file about the conversation and get on with your day. If an issue is detailed, then we need to look at it and decide next steps.


Dealing with conflict…

This is the tricky bit. Many conflicts in the workplace that involve ideas or processes can be resolved quickly. The interpersonal issues can take more intervention and require careful management. Being impartial is imperative in these situations. However, if something has happened that you would consider so serious that it needs to be investigated and become either a disciplinary or grievance issue, then please do take it seriously and inform the parties that you will be taking appropriate steps.

If it’s a clash between individuals that you feel can be resolved, then take the time to talk to and listen to all parties involved. If there is an easily recognised solution, or the individuals make suggestions as to how it can be resolved, use their input and see how it goes. Try to come to some agreement with them as to how to move forward. In these situations, they can probably move on quite well if they have already identified a solution.

Larger or more entrenched views however, can take more work. Often the individuals can see no way of moving past the issue. Then it may be that you need to look at mediation.


What is mediation?

Essentially mediation is a tool. It allows for an independent person to enter a situation and create an environment where all sides can be heard. From this, common ground can be found and agreements made in order to facilitate productive working environments moving forward.

Mediation isn’t about apportioning blame for what happened before; it’s about trying to find a way of working as a team to ensure these issues don’t reoccur in future. The mediator doesn’t make the decisions about how it will work; agreements that come out of sessions aren’t contractual (unless they need to be, but that’s a whole other piece on its own!). What it does do is focus people’s minds on how they should be communicating and working, and help them to understand what has and may cause disruption.


What next?

If you think that you have a conflict in your organisation that you need to resolve, or talk through any current processes that you have, please call and we can talk you through the maze of conflict resolution.

Lindsay Baker Character
Written by:
Lindsay Baker
Head of HR