14 Steps to Create Harmony in the Workplace

Dealing with conflict, especially in a business setup is a task that many employers or managers find it cumbersome to handle, or even worse avoid it all together. As expected in a place where there are numerous interactions taking place at any given time, a conflict will at times flare up. Conflict is driven by misunderstandings, varied personal opinions, and at times disagreement.

If a leader chooses to sweep every other conflict under the carpet, it’s certainly a time bomb for more trouble. Small problems that would have been solved during the initial stages will grow larger and larger when left unattended to. Resentment and bitterness arising from the unresolved conflict will create ripple effects leading to a demotivated workforce. Without notice, you will be left with the elephant in the room.

At the same time getting drawn into the heat will aggravate the already bad blood between the disagreeing parties or team members. Always maintain a cool head. Besides, as a leader, you should not form a personal opinion or try to figure the entire mess by yourself, as you will probably arrive at a biased solution.

However, it is possible to turn the conflict into a positive outcome. The otherwise detrimental outcomes of conflict that often tips the balance in a workplace and leads to isolation, chaos, anxiety, and even losses amounting to millions can be solved creatively.

Here are 14 steps to be creative in conflict situations, and as a result enhance teamwork.

Keep your temper at bay

As a leader, it is also wise if you avoid being drawn into the heat. Keep your head cool and grow an interest in getting a deeper insight to the real situation. Purpose to dig deeper and avoid oversimplifying the magnitude of the conflict however simple it might look.

To begin with, take a wider perspective. Broaden your personal view by not relying on one perspective. Even better, you can try to fit yourself in the shoes of the conflicting parties or person and imagine how he or she could be thinking. You can exhaustively delve into the conflict by asking open-ended questions as well as setting aside all the possible assumptions that you might be tempted to make. Restate, rephrase and make a summary of the conflict issues.

Taking an open-minded perspective will allow you to become receptive to more ideas and solutions. Where possible share what you think with others without taking sides. As you interact with your employees, try as much as possible to be transparent, honest, and more so directly to everyone involved.

However, how tempted you might be to iron out conflict the easy way out, remember to be patient and adopt a calm and a relaxed attitude to eliminate a possibility of the conflict escalating. Instill confidence among your team and let them trust you right from the start.

Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas

– Donatella Versace

Keep the direction

Whenever two parties sit down to solve the conflict, often than not, the main goal to bring the conflicting parties agreeable point of view gets lost along the way. As a leader, it is within your mandate to moderate and guide the dialogue towards the main goal. Often anger will flare up and resentment will pop up once in a way, but deal with every situation with the need to bring dialogue back to the table.

As you interact, make it a point to reassert the common goal among the negotiating parties. A good starting point would be to identify each other’s agendas, goals, and motives. Together, have a list of possible solution without necessarily evaluating them. The ultimate goal would be to have the conflicting parties reach an amicable ground.

Avoid hard stance but cultivate the essence of compromise among the team. You can lead the compromise path by expressing the alternative perspectives from the already suggested possible solution. For instance, you can frame it in the form of a question like “would another alternative be x or y?” This would soften up conflicting parties and be more ready to dialogue. Remember to steer the dialogue away from any pit hole that may prompt more disagreement.

Review the points and areas people agree

Make the initial move towards reconciliation by first pointing out the areas that the conflicting parties have agreed on. Subsequently, strive to repair emotional damage arising from the conflict. Begin by examining the issues that seem to be most controversial and explore the different ideas and means of solving the conflict. Ask yourself open-ended questions like “how would I like others to perceive me at the end of the conflict?”Amid your evaluation, it would be appropriate to reserve your response until everyone is willing to examine the problem from a sober perspective.

Listen attentively

Listening keenly will not only help you get to know what everybody is saying but also perceive those feeling and emotions that are at times hard to express. As we do not all communicate in the same way, you will be able to note a case of misunderstanding. In fact, people often disagree not because they differ in their goals but because of misunderstanding.

Pay attention to what every person is saying. Remain rational throughout the discussion and do not try to figure out what you are going to respond as you listen. If you try to think as you listen you will certainly miss some critical points, and chances are that you will deliver a biased response. Strive to understand what the parties are saying by listening intently.

Acknowledge the feelings

The pain, the sadness and at times the tantrums witnessed in conflict situations often shoulders the underlying cause of the conflict. By reading between the lines as a person express his or her emotions, you can be able to get a hint on the possible cause of the conflict. Let the parties express their feelings, aggravations, and even better, give them a crying shoulder by intently listening to their problems.

Ponder and thoughtfully reflect on their emotional feelings. As you reflect on the emotional issues remember to be professional. Do not let your own emotional buttons come in between your judgment. If need be, take a break.

Deeply pondering on the expressed emotional issues is like peeping through a glass door to the source of conflict as well as acting as a pointer to the possible source of solutions.

Conflict is the primary Engine of Creativity and Innovation

– Ronald A. Heifetz

Explore alternative solutions

Start by communicating optimism. Assure conflicting parties that things will eventually be resolved. By instilling the sense of optimism you will raise the level of confidence among the parties, and as well you will mentally prepare them to work towards an amicable ground.

Initiate the process of reconciliation by encouraging the parties to come up with alternative solutions to the problems. Lead the session by asking open-ended questions that would prompt employees to explore all the possible solutions. You will be surprised by the kind of solutions that are suggested by the conflicting parties as they deeply understand the problem.

Allow the conflicting parties to be as creative as possible when coming up with the solutions. Analyze the situation before the conflict and let the discussion flow in different directions. As much as the team would be coming up with different ideas and opinions, guide the discussion towards a common front. Compromise should always remain an alternative way out in resolving contentious issues.

Once the solutions have been suggested, more impact would be generated by exploring the consequences and the outcome of each option. Allow the parties to deeply ponder on this issue. Be careful with your responses.

Choose your words with utmost care as the outcome entirely depends on them. It would be appropriate if you focus mainly on positive things instead of dwelling on the negatives. Always remember to not to be definitive in your responses such as using words like ‘can’t’ and ‘must’ as you might sound rude.

Negative words will further complicate the conflict. The best way to guide your response is to heap praises on people and where necessary criticize ideas. In essence, your argument and response should be objective and not subjective at any given time.

Moreover, encourage people to make up by steering discussion towards peacemaking goals. Let every response that you make be a source of inspiration and not a damning statement that would end up worsening the situation.

Be crystal clear

Be honest and clearly express the goals and the objective of the dialogue. You do not have to take full control of the whole process, but you might want to take the lead by stating the guiding principles at the beginning of the session.

Be honest and name the negative behavior that you would want to be changed. Identifying and stating the problem is conflict half solved. State the unwanted behavior as well as naming alternative positive behavior to replace the negative ones.

Moreover, express how you feel about the negative behavior and how it is affecting the productivity as well as the entire teamwork within the workplace. Besides, elaborate the positive impact that would be achieved when the problem is solved. Have the conflicting parties ponder on this critical issues. After that, elaborate to the parties what you the objective of the dialogue. For instance, you can tell them “I will like to express my optimism on the fact that we are all here to look for a lasting solution”. This way you will motivate the conflicting parties to work towards a common front.

Finally, ask for agreement. Strive to complete the entire process on a positive note. To achieve this, you have to ask the parties to compromise where possible so as to settle on agreeable solutions.

Sandwich negativity

Negativity certainly kills the spirit of reconciliation. Negative words are demoralizing, to say the least. Avoid directing negative sediments towards a person however how unprofessional that person may conduct him or herself.

On the contrary focus on compliments and positive feedback. Whenever any party makes an effort to towards reconciliation, always note the progress and motivate the parties with compliments. In a case where an opinion that is not agreeable by both parties is posted by any party, look for a gentler means of moderating the reactions of both parties so as not to escalate the already bad situation.

Lead the way with smooth reactions. Your smooth reaction will certainly ease tension, diffuse anger, and promote rational agreements among the parties. Give everyone an opportunity to speak on the matter while you take the time to listen. Appreciate their opinion and show concern by responding to every issue exhaustively. Your smooth reaction will eliminate anger and make the parties to argue rationally.

Question again and again

By choosing the right questions, you will be in a better position to clear a lot of issues. Misunderstanding particularly can be addressed through focus questions. When you strive to find out underlying issues by asking questions, often than not, the parties will come up with solutions that are mostly agreeable.

Start with the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions as they tend to unlock even the hard to express feelings. Besides, ask leading questions that would probe conflicting parties to open up more on the motive issues. Moreover, frame your questions in a manner that would encourage more positive dialogue as well as steer the dialogue towards a goal to find a solution.

Leading questions will not only encourage more talk but also give you more understanding of the entire scenario. A better understanding will avail more options on how to best resolve the issue. Besides, leading questions will also give a better understanding and broader perspective to disagreeing parties.

Accept the decision

There is nothing more valuable in a discourse than being flexible and be willing to adapt. However, this does not mean giving up or giving in. Settle on a decision that is agreeable to all conflicting parties. By accepting decision agreed upon by the conflicting parties you will be laying more grounds for more agreements, better yet, settle for a win-win outcome that takes care of the interest of all the parties. Such decisions have more lasting impacts that those that are forced down disagreeing parties.

Ensure that you are not distracted by irrationally escalating commitments or the common belief of achieving a win-lose situation as this would often lead to a biased decision. Accepting the agreed upon decision means that you are surrendering to the idea that best fit the situation. On the contrary, refusing to accept the decision means that you are blocking any progress towards finding a resolution to a conflict.

Turn it into collaboration

By embracing dialogue, it means that the ideas that will be generated by a group would certainly supersede ideas arrived at by a single individual. The old adage couldn’t have put it better by stating that ‘two heads are better than one’ and even better when you are resolving a conflict. When a group engages in a dialogue with equal power and with high aspirations, it is more likely to arrive at an integrative solution.

Surrender any selfish interest that may hinder you from getting a solution. Beliefs or any anticipated outcome that you may have harbored prior to mediating conflict should not be a hindrance towards achieving the desired goals. Keep an open mind and be willing to compromise on any selfish interest.

Remember mutual benefits

There are few things that are satisfying as leaving conflicting parties with a win-win scenario. A mutually benefiting resolution is more likely to have a lasting impression than a decision arrived at a win-lose situation. The basis of a win-win situation is often driven by the ‘give and take spirit’. As a result, each party should embrace the attitude of compromise.

Equally, follow the follower. The essence of leading from behind when resolving conflict is critical as you eliminate the tendency to control negotiating parties. When a disagreeing group is controlled, there is a tendency to arrive at an impartial solution. Under such circumstance, the domineering attitude will intimidate the parties, and as a result, they may shy away and not contribute positively.

Additionally, leveling the ground for dialogue would definitely encourage conflicting parties to voice their opinion with a lot of courage. Ensure that there is a balance of power among the negotiating parties so as to avoid a one-sided or a biased dialogue.

Be ready for risk taking

Though unresolved conflicts will certainly catch up with you somehow, people at times would prefer avoiding confrontation rather than dealing with the real issue. Running away from solving a conflict is essentially a time bomb. Avert any possible future problem through risk aversion. Equally, develop a supportive and trusted environment that support dialogue.

Conclusion

However how bleak a conflict might seem, you can be surprised how the situation can turn when you are willing to try. Make an effort and just try. When people come together and dialogue even an individual known to take hard stance tend to soften up. As it is said gold can be found within the real discussion with real people in organizations.

If we manage conflict constructively,
we harness its energy for creativity and development.

Kenneth Kaye