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Top tips on dealing with conflict at work

Blair McPherson
city worker

Managing conflict recognises that conflict in the work place is a regular occurrence and just one of many tasks undertaken by a manager. Managing conflict also implies not avoiding it. Some managers view this as more the role of HR but the role of HR is to provide advice and support. Contributor Blair McPherson Former Director of Community services and author.

Sometimes conflict with in a team are about individuals. The running battle between the team member who likes the window open “for fresh air” and their colleague who complaints constantly of a draft and feeling cold. Sounds trivial, and it is, but it can quickly escalate and poison the team atmosphere.

Then there is the odd one out, may be the rest of the team think they don’t pull their weight, they don’t cover for absent colleagues, they don’t do their fair share of the unpopular tasks and they don’t help out a colleague who is struggling, in short they are not a team player and the rest of the team think the manager should ” do something about it.

And then their is the team member who claims they are being subject to homophobic or racist bulling by other members of the team who in turn claim their colleague is “over sensitive”, “can’t take a joke” or is making these allegations to cover up the fact that they are unpopular in the team because they are “lazy”, “frequently absent” and ” generally difficult to work with.

In each case the manager must intervene. Start by seeking advice from HR. Initially try to resolve the issues informally by sitting down with both parties separately and then together with a representative from HR, listening to their grievances and establish what outcome they want.  Resist the temptation to dismiss “trivial complaints” between two individuals as a clash or conflict of personalities with the implication that “adults” can be left to sort it out themselves or that one person will have to transfer.

If an informal meeting doesn’t resolve the issue then formal grievance procedures must be followed. The exception to the try an informal meeting first rule is in the case of complains of sexual harassment, homophobic bullying or allegations of racism when in my experience it is best to go straight to the formal process and appoint an independent investigator.

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