The idea of dealing with conflicts within an organisation is not usually the most attractive prospect for people considering going into human resources as a career, even for those with the appropriate empathy and communication skills to handle it. While conflict may be unpleasant, however, it is actually essential to solve problems and make meaningful progress.
Even within positive work environments with highly trained professionals and good organisational structures in place, there will be conflict from time to time. Leadership is a difficult task for any business partner or manager, and at times there will be failures of that leadership which cause issues. Equally, staff in lower positions will be able to cause conflict, often due to simple misunderstandings and unfortunate mistakes, or sometimes as a result of excessive self preservation and an unwillingness to cooperate as a team. Whatever the case, HR staff need to develop the skills to turn conflict into something positive.
Communication is absolutely crucial and should always form a starting point for conflict identification and resolution. Most disagreements and difficult situations in the workplace will be connected to some avoidable lapse in communication. Enabling better communication is key to minimising conflict before it even happens, so good HR departments will work on making it easier for employees to make their intentions and actions very clear to others.
Of course this process would be simple if everyone was able to step back and look objectively at the facts, and in a sense this is what HR specialists must do when others cannot. However, to focus only on the cold facts and ignore human emotion would be a mistake in most cases. Emotional reactions affect people’s choices and actions, so they are an essential element of understanding and informing decisions that lead to conflict or steer away from it.
What HR specialists need to deal with these issues is normally a framework for facilitating resolutions that is also flexible. To begin with, clear rules and guidelines must be established regarding every relevant area, which is time consuming but necessary so people are given a starting point and there is a precedent for establishing when someone crosses a line. Understanding how to tackle the issue of a disagreement is the next complex step, which involves diving right into the source of the problem and working on establishing the murky details – who did what, why they did it, and what should be done next.
Although there is an element of choosing your battles when it comes to mediating arguments, generally conflict can be seen as a good thing and it enables great progress to be made, so as HR managers it should be a priority to embrace it and learn to deal with it effectively. These skills are highly transferrable and beneficial to employees in almost any position, so consider making this issue one of your main objectives if you are looking to run a successful human resources operation.