The HR Advisor

How To Manage Workplace Conflict (Good and Bad)

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Workplaces are made up of people with different opinions, values, interests, ideas and communication styles. However, when differences are not accepted or are poorly understood, conflict results.

Diversity is a cornerstone of successful organisations, as is a passionate endeavour for continuous improvement. An organisation’s values, culture and leadership determine how conflict impacts on both individuals and teams. Generally, the individuals in conflict can resolve the matter themselves by talking it through. However, when that is not the case, the organisation needs to be able to rely on a robust dispute resolution process to guide them.

What to include in a grievance or dispute resolution procedure

A grievance or dispute resolution procedure should explain the following things:

  1. The types of matters that can be dealt with under the procedure.
  2. How an aggrieved employee can get advice, information, support and representation to participate in the procedure.
  3. The steps that will be taken to try to resolve the grievance or dispute by agreement between the employee and the other party.
  4. The timeframes for taking these steps.
  5. The steps that will be taken if the grievance or dispute cannot be resolved by agreement.
  6. Who will make decisions about the matter if it cannot be resolved by agreement.
  7. What capacity there is to appeal or review any decision made about a matter not resolved by agreement.
  8. Rules about how the parties are to conduct themselves throughout the procedure, including:
    • being impartial;
    • acting in good faith, i.e. sincerely, honestly and genuinely;
    • being cooperative;
    • acting promptly; and
    • not disrupting work.

It is important that the process is simple and encourages matters to be resolved at the workplace level.

Best practice dispute resolution outcomes should be:

  • Quick: the issues should be resolved quickly rather than allowing them to escalate
  • Fair: all parties should be consulted s that all sides to the story are taken into account
  • Handled sensitively: disputes should where possible always be handled confidentially in order to minimise the impact on employees not affected by the dispute
  • Transparent: the process should be made known to every employee in the business.

Good conflict vs Bad conflict

While all businesses should have a dispute resolution process, it is important not to always view conflict as a negative. Conflict can also be a good thing in a workplace. It can stimulate new ideas or ways of thinking and can encourage open-mindedness. It is, however, important to delineate between constructive conflict which stimulates continuous improvement and destructive conflict which can lead to cases of bullying.

Constructive conflict can strengthen relationships. If individuals are prepared to listen and sincerely value the insights and ideas of others, it can be very productive to have disagreements or robust discussions about work matters. This encourages productive and positive conflict resolution and helps to create an environment of respect and trust.

However, organisations should still ensure their dispute resolution process is clearly communicated and accessible to all so that in the event of a workplace dispute that is not able to be talked through by the individuals, there is a fair and structured approach to reaching a positive outcome as early as possible.


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