If you’re a newly qualified HR professional with an entry-level qualification, like our CIPD Level 3 Foundation Certificate in People Practice, you may not have had much experience dealing with conflict in the workplace.
Conflict is often inevitable and can be the product of numerous factors including conflicting personalities, priorities, experiences and perceptions.
While conflict can be daunting, it shouldn’t be avoided as this can lead to bigger problems in the future.
When should HR get involved in conflict resolution?
HR has a key role in conflict resolution and often acts as mediator between conflicting people or departments – but they don’t need to get involved in every conflict.
Some conflict with organisations can even be positive since they can open us up to improved ways of working. Team members who are free to share different opinions with each other will often find more innovative and cohesive ways of working in the long term than those who feel they can’t challenge the status quo.
In most cases, conflicts should be managed by the team members and line managers – HR doesn’t need to resolve every debate or disagreement. However, you may need to organise some training for the line managers, so they learn how to appropriately deal with conflict in their teams.
The key here is to recognise the difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict in the workplace.
What is unhealthy conflict?
- When it causes an employee to want to quit or change roles
- When conflicts become personal and colleagues disrespect each other
- When conflicts affect company morale and productivity
- When unhealthy conflicts occur (or are about to occur), HR professionals should get involved.
4 ways HR can resolve conflict
By the time a conflict is brought to HR it may have reached a point where employees can hardly communicate or someone may even want to change roles. While HR professionals shouldn’t get involved in every minor problem, there are ways to encourage early intervention to prevent problems from escalating:
- Keep everyone accountable for conflict resolution so they can try to resolve problems themselves
- Look out for signs of conflict among staff
- Regularly gather feedback from teams on methods of workplace collaboration
- Encourage an open-door policy with HR and line managers so that everyone feels comfortable discussing issues and trusts that they will be listened to.
Coach and Facilitate Only
The best conflict resolutions to conflicts are often where that the conflicting parties have found a solution with themselves. As a HR representative in this situation, you should mainly be looking to guide the participants through the meeting and facilitate a solution being reached – try to keep your own opinions and ideas to yourself so that you can remain truly impartial.
By merely facilitating the meeting, you are enabling the conflicting participants to work together to reach a mutually beneficial solution which can be good experience for any future conflicts they have.
Examine all perspectives
HR will often act as a mediator during conflict resolution sessions so it’s important that all perspectives are considered in reaching a fair solution. Listen to all viewpoints (both separately and in a shared space), remain impartial, and look for opportunities to reframe the situation so that the participants themselves have the opportunity to look at it from another perspective.
Have a clear and common goal
During particularly intense conflicts it can be easy for participants to get emotional, defensive or offensive (e.g. using a lot of “you” statements). In these situations, it’s important to stay focused on working towards a clear goal that all parties have agreed to.
Ask participants to for ideas of a common goal that can be worked towards during the meeting. They don’t need to know how they’re going to achieve it yet (this will be worked towards as the meeting progresses) but they should have a clear idea of what a successfully resolution looks like. Remind them of this goal whenever they lose focus or start to go off-track.
Top tips for conflict management
If you’re new to conflict resolution you may want to receive some professional training to learn the some different techniques and methods. We offer a CPD Certified Conflict Management Short Course or you can continue your HR studies with the CIPD level 5 Associate Diploma in People Management which looks at these essential people management skills in more detail.
When you have a genuine interest in achieving a successful solution, it is often reflected in your approach and attitude to the situation. If those involved feel you are genuinely interested in helping them settle the issue, they will be more willing to work with you to find a resolution.
Conflicts can arise when there are differences – both in opinions and approach. Here, you need to recognise and understand what these differences are and their effect on people involved if you’re going to help find a resolution to the conflict.
Keep it simple
Conflict resolution is simply removing the conflict by implementing a mutually beneficial solution for the parties involved. While some conflicts may be more complex to resolve, a simple resolution process is usually the best approach for everyone involved.
While it would be ideal if all conflict resolutions remain effective, this isn’t a realistic outcome. Some solutions may not work in practice or may need tweaking as time progresses. Some conflicts, especially those that arise through differences in personality and beliefs, may re-ignite and need to be dealt with again.
Follow up regularly with those involved to ensure any problems can be highlighted before they reach a crisis level.
Conflict resolution is one of the most important skills of a HR professional in helping to sustain the long term success and wellbeing of the people within your organisation. Want to improve your conflict resolution skills? Speak to one of our Qualifications Advisors on 03452 032 103.
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