Managing Workplace Conflict through Preventive Mediation Tools

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    Sep 08, 2012
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By means of our associations, task interrelations and interdependence, workplace settings are fertile breeding ground for conflicts. The dynamics and interdependence of employee/employee and employee/employer relationship call to mind this critical question; why do conflicts arise and what we can do to prevent them from ruining inter and intra workmates relationships.
Recognizing and addressing the factors that give rise to the potential conflict through effective conflict resolutions systems institutionalization in organizations can have a positive impact on industrial harmony, team work and cohesion and productivity.

Understanding Conflict
I share DR. Dana’s definition of conflict which relates to the workplace. Conflict occurs when people who are task interdependent and one or both feels angry, find fault with the other and use behaviors that causes a business problem.
Note that workplace conflict exists only when employee/employee and employer/employee who are task independent causes the firm or the company derail from achieving set targets, work output or misplace productivity and corporate strategic objectives.
If Kwadjo procrastinates, his action will delay the report of Williams, this is because Williams output depends on Kwadjo’s input and forces him to do a rush work increasing his stress and fear looking obtuse before their director. This causes what labour experts called substantive conflict.

As imperfect humans, we fall short of all the factors that will promote harmonious industrial existence. So when disagreements arise, emotions may be difficult to control. And if work mates acts behaviors which starts arguments, some may find it a real challenge to resist such bad behaviors as screaming, abusive speeches, avoiding team members, antagonistic gestures, withdrawing, pre-empting etc. what conflict experts term as wrong reflexes.
Since no one person can do the job without the input of another, our ability to accomplish organizational goals and objectives depends on working together and assistance of others. When one procrastinates, has misplaced priority, misunderstands directions or engages in office politicking, conflicts are created.

Work teams may have different communication styles that are probable inferno for workplace conflict. The use of good communication skills is essential in keeping the peace at the workplace. The unfortunate though is most of us are not born with good communication skills. Consider the experience of James, a team leader in one of the leading companies in Ghana. He says, “ I discovered that the team members have different attitudes towards discussing issues” whilst some are concern not only with what happened but also why and how it occurred, the rest are only interested in the end result.
It is also a fact that managers as well as work mates down play conflict by avoiding or suppressing the issues that triggers conflict while others prefer discussing the disagreement. Have you notice such pattern emerging at your workplace? Which of the roles do you play, discussing the issues or avoiding the issues?

Another factor worthy of consideration is the family background of workmates. When one of the workmates comes from a family who are more expressive of issues, it may influence his perception of how workmates should communicate. Consider the example of James mentioned earlier on, “I come from a quiet family and finds it difficult to discuss openly issues with workmates and since most in my team members express themselves freely, it was really tough to adjust to discussing issues openly.” Letting workmates know how you feel about issues may help them understand you and prevent conflict triggers arenas.

Why do ‘We’ have to Work towards Resolving Workplace Conflicts?
I have realized in my dealings with small and medium firms that the most reliable indicator to industrial peace and stability is how well management and labour manage any conflict that arises. A union leader at Aboso Goldfields - Damang mine, believes that putting the right organizational structures, back by appropriate conflict resolution systems and a listening management helps to prevent workplace conflicts.
Since the cost of conflict is very high, I concur that the high cost of conflict, its repercussion on the viability of the organization should prompt both management and labour to work together to fulfill Section 97 (1) of the Labour Act. “All parties to the negotiation of a collective agreement shall negotiate in good faith and make every reasonable effort to reach an agreement.”
The shrewd they say see calamity and proceeds to hide but the inexperienced one passes through and must suffer the consequences. Call to memory the famous SABAT Motors, and many companies that collapsed because both management and labour took militant positions during negotiations. The fact is, they failed to manage conflict at its earliest stages and had to suffer the consequences. The important question though is how do we avoid damaging reflexes? This will be treated in part two of managing workplace conflict.

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