Sometimes it is not possible to prevent conflict and we are faced with the important challenge of managing it. First of all we should be wary of the two main problems identified in the section entitled, What causes conflict? – namely fudging and escalation. While it may be understandable that people may wish to avoid conflict issues and hope they will go away, experience has taught us that this does not work and that fudging the issue can lead to significant additional problems. If you feel anxious about handling complex issues, then it is important that you manage to summon up the courage and confidence from somewhere (perhaps with the support of a trusted colleague) to tackle the conflict issues, rather than to allow them to be swept under the carpet, only to emerge in a much more dangerous and serious form at a later date. Similarly, we have to make sure that the tensions associated with conflict situations do not lead people to overreact and thereby fan the flames of conflict, leading to an escalation of the situation. It is important that you remain as calm as you possibly can and focus clearly and carefully on the issues that are being dealt with. It is also important to avoid taking sides, as this can lead to an escalation in which the person whose side you do not take may become resentful and even angry at your stance. It is important to listen carefully and to keep the channels of communication open. At times, when conflict arises, some people’s behaviour may become unacceptable. For example, someone may become aggressive or abusive. It is therefore important to give a clear message that, however committed you are to resolving the conflict constructively and supportively, unacceptable behaviour will none the less not be tolerated. This has to be handled sensitively, so that a comment to one of the parties to the effect that their behaviour is unacceptable is not interpreted as your taking the side of the other party. Don’t forget the importance of keeping clear and accurate records of what has happened, as it may be that, at some future date, you are called upon to give evidence at some form of inquiry, tribunal or even court case. You should ensure that any such recording is fair, based on facts and, where you do feel the need to give an opinion, you indicate explicitly that it is an opinion. Timing is also important in managing conflict. It is important to get the balance right between, on the one hand, rushing in hastily and making rash decisions and, on the other, allowing the situation to drift on longer than is necessary, with tensions continuing to mount. This again emphasises the importance of staying calm and keeping a clear head in making careful and sensitive judgements about how you deal with such complex situations. Finally, remember that you should not be alone in managing conflict. There should be support systems in place for you, formal and/or informal, that should help you in meeting this demanding challenge.
Neil’s website and blog are at www.neilthompson.info