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4 ways to prevent conflicts in the workplace

This article looks at 4 of the key ways to prevent conflicts in the workplace, and solving any as soon as possible.
© University of Bergen/Authors: B.E. Moen, G. Tjalvin
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Workplaces should engage in continuous work to create a good psychosocial work environment, thereby preventing conflicts from arising. Furthermore, it is of great importance to solve the conflicts as soon as possible, and at the lowest level, if they should arise. Then you avoid that they escalate and take on a larger dimension.

Cross-cutting through decent work

ILO has written a brochure called “Cross-cutting through decent work”. This reports points at decent work conditions as a good means for reducing the conflict level in the companies. It does not tell about conflicts directly but tells how a workplace should be organized to avoid conflicts between employers and employees. The report can be recommended.

More specific advice can be found concerning preventing conflicts.

Research shows that there are four basic factors that need to be in place to successfully maintain a good work environment:

1. Clear responsibilities and roles in the company

Every workplace needs to clarify who is the leader or the leaders and to know the ranking system within the company. If there is unclear leadership, the risk of having conflicts increases.

2. Establishment of systems and procedures

Routines on how things should be performed in the company are needed. Sometimes routines are written down, but in most companies systems exist only “by doing”. However, it is important to evaluate the work performed regularly, to be able to improve the work.

This is natural in many workplaces, but the leaders need to know that such evaluations need input from all the workers. Changes should not be done without explanations being given to all employees.

3. Secure communication and interaction/cooperation

Regular meetings with the workers are important. Monthly staff meetings give the workers an opportunity of raising questions and receive information on news and changes. Without such meeting arenas, conflicts easily grow. It is important to give information, but also to give everyone a possibility to respond to events and news.

A meeting can have this function, while information letters and so on give only one-way communication. Some smaller workplaces or units in larger companies even meet daily, for a morning tea or coffee. This type of routine is of major importance in conflict prevention, as it gives possibilities for communication on issues before they become a problem.

4. Regular provision of information and training

It is not possible to inform every worker on an individual level about everything that happens in a company. However, this should be a clear aim. If the leadership cannot give the information themselves, they should make sure information is spread; either orally or by text (posters, letters, pamphlets).

If new activities are to take place, training must be given. For instance, if new computer programmes are installed; make sure everyone who shall use them is taught how to.

Good leadership is probably the most important factor in conflict avoidance. A good leader makes sure the four points above are followed in the company. In general, a good leader has the following skills:

  • Listening
  • Observing
  • Organizing
  • Making decisions
  • Communicating effectively and working well with others
  • Encouraging and facilitating others
  • Fostering enthusiasm and vision
  • Goal setting and evaluation
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Coordinating the efforts of others
  • Chairing a meeting
  • Being willing to accept responsibility

If you’d like to learn more about good leadership, check out the full online course from The University of Bergen, below.

© University of Bergen/Authors: B.E. Moen, G. Tjalvin
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