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Beat the heat – Tips to lower the temperature and resolve workplace conflicts

With sunshine and vacations you would expect the office to be a happier place during the summer. However vacations can increase the workload on co-workers, foster intermittent and missed communications and add to the stress level of employees who are struggling to meet a deadline before they go on vacation or coming back from vacation to an overloaded inbox. Rising temperatures can equal rising tempers!

Some conflicts can be overlooked, let go, or settled on a patio with some non-work chat, open communication and laughter. Other conflicts can create resentment and fester, occurring with increased frequency and starting to create a pattern of behaviour in which neither person really listens to the other’s concerns but instead continually pushes blame to the other. It is this type of conflict that managers and workers need to be aware of and to address before the situation really heats up. Unresolved conflicts in the workplace can cause personal stress, may lead to formal complaints of workplace violence and harassment or human rights violations, may decrease productivity and may increase employee absenteeism or sick leave use.

The Conflict Resolution Network offers managers and employers free resources for developing skills to resolve conflict. Using skills like these are crucial to resolving conflicts before they turn into formal workplace harassment complaints. Many organizations implement an informal conflict resolution process as one of the first steps or options available to managers and employees when a potential workplace harassment situation emerges. The Treasury Board of Canada offers a detailed set of steps and policies for managers in these situations.

Summarized below are eleven tips for conflict resolution. They are highlighted in more detail by the Conflict Resolution Network on their website. These are great skills for all organizations to build in their employees to create an environment where workplace conflicts are resolved before they escalate. These skills can be useful even if only one of the people involved in the conflict is actively using them.

  1. The win/win approachThis is a problem solving outlook that acknowledges that the conflict can be solved in a way that both people can “win” by getting more of what they need. It is not a compromise situation because both individuals have concerns that are important. It helps to merge perspectives, build consensus and hopefully mend relationships. Fundamental to the win/win approach is probing below the surface to discover each person’s real needs in the situation.
  2. Creative responseA creative response involves letting go of a “perfectionist” attitude that seeks to judge rights and wrongs. Instead it involves turning problems into possibilities and discoveries of opportunities. Failures and errors need to be accepted as part of the process.
  3. EmpathyThe most concrete way to build empathy, openness and rapport with another person is to make them feel that they are understood. One common technique or skill that can be learned to help build empathy is active listing. Active listening can be applied in situations even when the aim of the speaker is to tell you that you are the problem. It can skilfully dissipate the emotional level of the conversation to a level that can consider options for change or solutions rather than blame.
  4. Appropriate assertivenessAppropriate assertiveness means using “I” statements in a non-inflammatory way to let others know how you are feeling. This will open up the conversation so that the relationship can change for the better.
  5. Co-operative powerWhen others make statements that have the potential to create conflict, ask open questions to reframe the possibilities. Explore, find options, redirect and be specific. Asking questions can be more effective than debating, contradicting and defending.
  6. Managing emotionsUnderstand your own feelings, needs, what you want to change, your perspective and if possible their perspective and emotions. If you are able to be aware of the emotions and ensuing behaviour of the other person, you may be able to respond in a way that changes the behaviour patterns.
  7. Willingness to resolveOften in a conflict one person or sometimes both people perceive that the other person has negatively affected them or something that they care about. Typical emotions are anger, irritation, fear and hurt. A person must be prepared to let go of the strong emotional reaction and desire for revenge in order to commit to a willingness to resolve the problem.
  8. Mapping the conflictThis is a process that involves identifying the issues in neutral terms, the parties involved, needs and fears of each party.
  9. Development of optionsThere are many tools available to help develop a range of options to solve the problem. The problem can be clarified (research), solutions generated (brainstorming) and possibilities negotiated.
  10. Introduction to negotiationPrepare in advance of the discussion and be committed to a win/win approach – even if the other person is not. Reframe questions, respond don’t react to the other person and continue to re-focus on the issue. Whenever possible try to maintain the relationship and resolve the issue by reviewing common ground and agreement so far.
  11. Finally, do you need a neutral third person?Sometimes in employee-employee relations or even in employee-supervisor relations a neutral third person can step in. The role of this person is to help the parties involved understand each other and to facilitate the parties involved working together to build solutions.

If even a few employees or managers are able to learn these broad perspectives on conflict resolution, they can have a calming and cooling impact throughout the organization. Training key employees in conflict resolution is a proactive approach to managing the risk involved in potential workplace harassment situations.

Marcia Scheffler
M.A., CHRP Candidate

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Marcia Scheffler

Human Resources Generalist at Wawel Villa
Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate is a Human Resources Generalist with M.A. working full-time as a Senior HR Officer. She is interested in the intersection of human resources theory and current best practices in HR. Read more
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One thought on “Beat the heat – Tips to lower the temperature and resolve workplace conflicts
  • sarah gayer says:

    It is hot today and you are right tempers flair but you cannot blame it all on the weather. As an HR professional and mediator I have been involved in all aspects of conflict from setting up policies and procedures, training, conducting investigations and coaching managers and employees. The secret to success in avoiding conflict and then handling it are the managers/supervisor level, they require training and understanding of conflict, how it occurs, conflict styles, etc as they will be the ones who have to resolve the conflict, have caused the conflict and need to know how to prevent conflict from occurring.