Workplace conflicts are age-old and a prevalent part of any workplace. Managers are expected to solve these conflicts and reach an amicable and acceptable solution for all. Unresolved conflicts lead to loss of time and unproductivity and hamper the work environment.
A survey found that over 80% of employees face remote work conflicts. And Gen-X has the most remote conflicts.
“Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth-or, rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.” – Kenneth Cloke.
From 1960 to 1975, Thomas and Kilmann proposed five modes of conflict management which can be used to handle particular conflicts. This model was known as the Thomas-Kilmann test. According to Thomas and Kilmann, five modes are used to resolve conflicts when they arise. These modes can be assessed based on scales of assertiveness and cooperativeness.
Here are the five major conflict management styles as given by Thomas and Kilmann:
- Competing style – This style works best for highly opinionated employees who prefer to compete to get what they want. They rely more on logical negotiation rather than empathy. This is a straightforward way to resolve conflicts resulting in a win-or-lose situation.
However, due to a lack of empathy in decision-making, this style may come off as authoritative. It may intimidate or refute other employees leading to discouragement or dejection.
- Compromising style – It relies on finding a middle ground or consensus. Although the style seems fair and just, it may lead to problems in the long term. It does not address the root of the problem, and hence the solution is only temporary.
- Avoiding style – Problems may aggravate if not addressed on time. Avoiding conflicts further worsens the issues and creates unrest in the team, which hampers productivity.
- Accommodating style – Self-sacrifice or acceptance of opposing views are attributes of an accommodating conflict resolution style. Such a style values personal relationships over own needs. However, it is a temporary solution and can lead to unhappiness among those who sacrifice their wants.
- Collaborating style – It is a comprehensive conflict management style since it allows both parties to put forth their points and express their demands clearly. It focuses on finding trade-offs and solving the problem permanently.
Managing disputes becomes more difficult in a remote work setting due to the need for non-verbal communication. In such cases adopting a collaborative style and encouraging open communication is the best solution to resolve the issues.
In a hybrid or remote work structure, managers must adopt the following practices for conflict or dispute management –
- Encouraging an open dialogue between team members to express their concerns and opinions.
- Set clear expectations for remote employees and develop a culture where diverse perspectives are valued.
- View differences as opportunities for growth.
- Clearly defining roles and responsibilities, communication channels, response times, and expectations for teamwork can help prevent misunderstandings and reduce potential conflicts.
- Whenever possible, use video conferencing tools to facilitate face-to-face interactions. It helps to overcome the problem of nonverbal communication to some extent.
- Provide swift and proactive intervention to resolve issues more effectively.
- Foster a culture of active listening to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions.
- Regularly take feedback from team members on their experiences and challenges related to remote or hybrid work. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments to policies, procedures, and communication practices.
Though disputes are a natural part of an organization, it is the responsibility of the manager to resolve them and ensure that the operations run smoothly and the team is productive.
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