Basic Training for New Supervisors

Module: People
Topic:  Conflict Resolution

 

Supervisor’s Role 

Graphic: Angry soldier looking up at dripping clothes hanging over desk; another soldier scurrying away with laundry basket.

It is your job to maintain a good work climate and provide an environment conducive to productivity.

 

Conflict within a work unit causes problems at many levels.  It interferes with work, creates divisiveness among employees, and consumes energy that could be better spent.

 

It can hurt morale and cause lasting damage among employees.

 

 

Graphic: Referee with whistle.

BUT: It is NOT your job to be a referee or professional problem-solver. You should work to educate and enable your staff to handle their own problems and work out their own differences.

 

**Not all issues are appropriate for conflict resolution at the first-line supervisor’s level. Harassment allegations, for example, should be referred to the agency Employee Relations officer or HR office.

 

What's your conflict style? Think about which of the statements below describe you:

__I tend to withdraw from situations that involve conflict
__I predict conflicts before they happen and create plans to deal with them
__I want to make myself right and others wrong in a conflict
__I look at confronting a conflict in a positive and productive way
__I find reasons to delay dealing with conflict situations
__I prefer to make peace whenever possible
__I try to look at conflicts as an opportunity for understanding and growth
__When there are conflicts at work I try to stay away and not get involved
__I would rather win an argument than be accepted or liked
__I reach agreements as quickly as possible so that I don't really have to confront them
__I feel it is the supervisor's job role to quickly extinguish workplace conflicts

 

 

PITFALLS

Getting involved when you shouldn’t

Taking sides

Taking over and solving problems FOR employees rather than guiding them to resolution

 

SUPERVISOR SECRET:

  There are at least 2, and probably more, sides to every story.

 

CRITICAL INFORMATION

 

If you tend to avoid conflict:

Graphic: video clip of woman sitting at desk.

She says, "When I first started supervising I tended to run from problems. I wanted to look the otherway. It took me awhile to realize that even though things may not seem like much to you, to the person you're supervising they can b be a major deal. You need to weigh the situation, talk to the people involved, and go ahead and do something about it."

Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing.  It can generate new ideas and energy, can forge new alliances, and can help employees sharpen their own conflict resolution skills.

Disagreement or having another point of view does not mean there’s a conflict.

 

If you tend to TAKE OVER: Solving problems for others rarely results in getting at the root cause of the conflict.  People are not likely to commit to solutions they had no part in developing. Worse, dictating a solution often makes people resentful or resistant to attempting to work toward resolving the conflict.

 

Warning signs:

When conflict starts to escalate, hurt morale, communication becomes strained,  people taking sides, people spending energy trying to get others to take sides, having an undesired effect, reaches point where people don’t even remember what the conflict was initially about

 

CRITICAL INFORMATION

In dealing with conflict you have 5 options:

    Ignore:  when the conflict doesn’t appear to be causing any harm
Mediate resolution between the parties involved

    Take over: people cannot work it out; there is danger; people have taken positions with no room for negotiation; things are getting worse

   Provide support to help an employee resolve the conflict on his or her own

   Wait and see

 

CRITICAL INFORMATION

Your most important role is listener, not ‘problem-solver’

Explore all sides

Listen actively to everyone involved

Focus on facts rather than people

Create action plan and set a follow-up meeting

Describe the impact the conflict is having: affecting others, hurting morale, etc.

Resist the temptation to tell others how to solve problem

 

 

CRITICAL INFORMATION

As the leader, IT IS VITAL that you get the people who are involved in the conflict invested in the outcome. You need to have their participation in the accepted resolution. Your telling them how to fix this will not solve the problem long-term. Your goal is not just to resolve the current conflict, but to avoid further conflict by eliminating the underlying cause.

 

Having the individuals involved generate ideas for solving the problem is more effective than prescribing a solution.

 

By having them participate they are compromising, developing consensus and seeking win/win resolutions

 

Getting involvement will help you get to the underlying cause and addressing it effectively. If you attempt to resolve the conflict yourself, you may miss a piece of information that a team member could share with you.

 

Without investment in the resolution, you may end up with staff who inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, sabotage the plan or act in passive-aggressive manner.

 

CASES

Two of your employees, Barry and Jocelyn, have never seen eye to eye. Barry has a dominant personality and wants to impress. Jocelyn sees Barry as too pushy.

 

Now they are having to work together more closely, and their roles and responsibilities are starting to overlap.

 

You turn a corner in the hallway and find them arguing about whose fault it was that a deadline was missed. Their voices are becoming louder and their body language more aggressive.

 

What should you do?

 

Step 1: Diagnose

Based on the information given, what signs do you see?

 

Productivity being hurt--No

Others being drawn in to conflict; "sides" being taken--No

Morale is being damaged--No

Problem spreading to others--No

Parties appear to be working it out--No

One party has asked for your help in resolving the conflict--No

Conflict limited to just the parties involved; not yet begun to escalate—Yes

 

Step 2: Decide on appropriate action

So far the conflict is limited to just Barry and Jocelyn; no further damage is being done, and the problem hasn't spread. Here are your options:

 

Offer support: Coach one party toward resolution without getting involved yourself, or

Mediate: Take an active role in facilitating resolution, or

Wait and see: Involved parties seem to be working it out on their own, or

Take over: Conflict has become harmful to productivity, morale, customers

 

WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

 

The correct approach here is MEDIATION. You will need to help facilitate resolution of the conflict between Barry and Jocelyn.

 

You have a situation in which two people are in conflict with each other. The conflict has not yet spread to other employees, and is not yet affecting work or customers. It is not time to TAKE OVER.

 

However, the problem is not getting any better and these two seem to be making no effort toward working it out. It is a matter of time before other employees are drawn into their arguments or the relationship deteriorates and harms productivity. It is not appropriate to WAIT AND SEE.

 

Since neither party seems interested in improving the situation it is not the right time to PROVIDE SUPPORT to one of the parties involved.

 

So: you will need to MEDIATE resolution of this conflict.

 

Tips for MEDIATING conflict resolution:

1. Recognize the personal needs of the parties involved: everyone wants to feel that their point of view has been heard and is respected, and wants to feel they're being treated respectfully and fairly.

 

2. Be prepared to discuss possible causes of the conflict and the impact it is having on others or on the work.

 

3. Work to bring the parties to some mutual agreement. Each person needs to feel that they have been involved in developing solutions. Work toward commitment and ownership.

 

4. Establish a plan and set a follow-up meeting to ensure that commitments have been kept and solutions are working. 

 

5. LISTEN.

 

Case 2: Theodore and the Website

Graphic: worried-looking man

You want to create a website with information about your section's services and ask one of your best employees, Theodore, to get with computer services to work on it. He is enthusastic and has a lot of good ideas. 

 

A month later he comes to you and says that he is having trouble working with the computer services web designer. Lots of promises have been made but few are kept; it seems every time some progress starts an 'emergency' interferes the web designer stops everything to deal with that. The project is behind schedule, Theodore is frustrated, and you do not have your website.

 

What should you do?

 

Step 1: Diagnose

Based on the information given, what signs do you see?

 

Productivity being hurt--Yes

Others being drawn in to conflict; "sides" being taken--No

Morale is being damaged--No

Problem spreading to others--No

Employee asking for help in resolving the conflict—Yes

 

Step 2: Decide on appropriate action

 

You have an employee who has asked for your help in resolving a conflict. Here are your options:

 

Offer support: Coach one party toward resolution without getting involved yourself, or

Mediate: Take an active role in facilitating resolution, or

Wait and see: Involved parties seem to be working it out on their own, or

Take over: Conflict has become harmful to productivity, morale, customers

 

WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE?

 

The correct approach here is to PROVIDE SUPPORT. The employee wants to work this out, has the skill to do so and has asked for your help with getting resolution.

 

The conflict has not yet spread to other employees and is not yet affecting work or customers. It is not time to TAKE OVER. Theodore wants to handle the project and get the conflict resolved; your interfering will not help, may hurt his initiative and enthusiasm, and could jeopardize his relationship with computer services.

 

Theodore has brought the problem to your attention. You can see it is not improving and the work project has stalled. It is not appropriate to WAIT AND SEE.

 

You will need to PROVIDE SUPPORT in helping Theodore resolve this conflict.

 

Tips for PROVIDING SUPPORT

1. Acknowledge the person's interest in resolving the conflict.

 

2. Coach the person in developing the skills or confidence needed to resolve the conflict.

 

3. Help him/her plan a discussion which will get at root causes of the problem, explaining the impact of the situation and involving the other party in identifying and pursuing solutions.

 

4. LISTEN

 

 

Further study

Example: Cost of one workplace conflict 

DDI module: "Guiding Conflict Resolution"

Book: Ursiny, Tim. The Coward's Guide to Conflict. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2003.

Next module: Self-Preservation: Next topic: Transition to Supervision

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