24 Nov 2015 18:23 IST

The art of conflict management

In your hostel or classroom, you could walk away, duck, open another front or return the fire. Workplace conflicts are different.

If you haven't already been told that conflict management will be the key to success in your job, you will soon hear this. However, if you were asked the above question in your job interview, it is quite likely that you would have responded then with the following answer: “Yes, I have good experience with handling and settling conflicts.”

At that time, perhaps, these images floated in your head – your run ins you had with the caterers at your B-School mess over “the vanishing desserts”, or an incident when you found yourself arguing with your professor over another extension for your submissions or for a better grade, or that occasion when you told one of your group members that he was behaving like a freeloader during group assignments.

Scenario setting

In your hostel or classroom, you could walk away, duck, open another front or return the fire.

Workplace conflicts are different. Speaking your mind may be perceived as being politically incorrect. Blowing your top is equally out of the question. Only the few options seem to be left before you:

1. Sweet talk someone into accommodating your mistakes. Say something like: “Pleeese. You can do it in no time, you are so good at it'

2. Offer some other thing in return for agreeing with you. “I will help you in your report next time”

3. Compromise. “Please accept mine. I will accept yours.”

4. Avoid. “Run away from situation. Feign ignorance. Hope no one finds out.”

5. Bully. “I have done it perfectly. There is no other way.”

6. Complain. “I will have to inform my boss that my work is not getting priority.”

7. And, if all else fails, crib. Preferred places to do this are cafeteria, canteen, washrooms, rides to office and back.

If you are a boss to the people who are fighting. You have a chance to say who is right and who is wrong. But you aren't likely to take sides. Instead you say: “Both of you are right in your own ways. But we need to get on with what we have. So let's do this.”

And why wouldn't you play it safe?

As a boss of warring people, you can:

1. Give a lecture on teamwork

2. To the one who is more malleable, you say: “I hope you understand the crunch. Please see what you can do.”

3. Say: “Let's get over the hump. I will take care of you.”ss

4. Give a pep talk to the groups

5. Give a thrashing to the group

Caged animals

An all out war is rare in a work place. At work, people behave like caged animals. This comes from having no escape route, at least in the short term. What you need to sense are signs of any of these: sulk, non-cooperation, sabotage, digging in heels, destructive competition, and destructive cooperation.

Destructive cooperation, you ask? When the warring parties fall silent, the chances are that they have worked out an arrangement among themselves, something along the lines of: I will ignore some defects. But you please don't make me work late because of delays in sending the products for quality testing.

Such arrangements might suit the two sides but it won't paint a pretty picture of your company once your customers find out the effects of the short cuts.

There are two sources of workplace conflicts: personal and work related.

It is possible to dramatically prevent work-related conflicts through process improvements and smart management of projects. Good leadership is all about this. Nobody other than you can solve your work-related conflicts. You have to take the lead. When there are less and less work-related causes of fights, it is easier to deal with personal issues.

So, brace yourself and treat your next conflict as an opportunity for you to figure a way out of this.

To read more from the Jargon Jungle section, click here .