Human Resources Guidebook to Workplace Conflict

Of all the departments that will need to deal with conflict effectively in a workplace, the human resources department is the most likely.  Outside of the hiring process, most employees will only interact with human resources during times of conflict, which often makes human resource departments the least favorite team to interact with for an employee.  This allows human resource departments to play an invaluable role in the development of effective conflict resolution practices and procedures at an organization.  In creating a Human Resource Guidebook, we do not seek to replace the many degrees and achievements that human resource managers have.  Instead, we seek to draw a connection between conflict resolution and human resources, offering new and effective ways for departments to create and implement effective conflict resolution strategies to better address workplace conflict.  This article will focus on the role of human resource departments in the overall culture and well-being of a company and how departments can expand and implement new conflict resolution tactics to help ease the burden of dealing with workplace conflict.

The Role of Human Resource Departments:

The human resource department has the unique role of shaping the culture and interactions of the people within the company.  While most other departments will be focused on developing and marketing the products that will be shipped out, human resources get to address the ways that the company handles and addresses the people that make it up.  Because human resources are actively involved in the hiring and retention process, they can influence the type of people that are a part of the organization, which directly influences the overall mindset and culture of the company.  Additionally, the way that an organization deals with conflict will impact the health of the company culture and can create or destroy organizational morale.  Because they are responsible for so many aspects of the company’s culture and well-being, finding constructive and innovative ways to implement their work can help an organization thrive.

Responsibilities that HR Departments Face:

Before we discuss the specific ways that human resource departments can deal with conflict effectively in the workplace, it is important to understand the various responsibilities that the department may face and how those contribute to and develop the overall culture of an organization.  Some of the common responsibilities of the department include:

  • Hiring: One of the most common roles that a human resources department will have is hiring new employees to work for the company. Depending on the size and process of the company, the human resource department may take either a lead role, doing most of the marketing, reviewing, and interviewing process on their own, or they may support other departments in the hiring process.  By hiring new employees for the company, the human resource department has the opportunity to shape the type of employee that is hired, which also shapes the culture.  One way that this ties to the conflict resolution process is by ensuring that people who are not afraid to deal with conflict in a healthy way are hired.
  • Management: Another key responsibility of the human resource department is the management of the day-to-day proceedings in the company. The department will likely be in contact with other departments and managers to find new ways to plan for and execute performance expectations and measurements.  By monitoring the performance of the employees at the organization, the department can shape the way that other managers and departments treat their employees and what the standard for success is.  In doing so, the department can create systems that monitor potential conflict and even prevent it before it starts.
  • Communication: Many human resource departments are responsible for intraoffice communication, meaning that they set the tone for communication and model effective communication styles. By creating communication that is straightforward and easily understood, the human resource department can prevent a lot of conflict before it begins.
  • Conflict Resolution: While this is the undercurrent for much of what a human resource department does, it is also its own responsibility. Human resource departments are responsible for managing and resolving conflict within the organization.  There are many ways that a company can choose to resolve conflict, but there will usually be a procedure in place, often created by the human resource department, to guide management and other personnel through conflict.  Creating a process that is adaptable and helpful is key to creating an overall effective culture.
  • Wellbeing: Another responsibility that human resources face is caring for the well-being of the employees of the company. This includes health and safety planning and managing benefits that care for the employee both at and away from work.  By ensuring that employees remain healthy and well, human resources teams can help employees be in a spot where they can approach conflict in healthy ways.
  • Separation: If employees are underperforming or when the organization has to make difficult cuts, the burden of separating the employee from the company falls on the human resource team. These situations are often a cause for conflict and can be emotional situations. Having the proper procedures in place can help make the process smoother for the parties and can ensure that everyone can move on well.
  • Labor Relationships: When there are unions in a workforce, the human resource department is often in charge of the relationships with the unions and managing represented and unrepresented employees. There may be conflict that arises out of these interactions, but having solid relationships with the labor unions and creating processes to protect the interests of the company and the employees can help prevent or alleviate this conflict.

Human resource departments are a key piece of an organization’s ecosystem, and they can shape much of the way that the company interacts with its employees.

Conflict Resolution and Human Resources:

Because the human resource department is the direct link between the company and employees, these departments must be equipped to deal with conflict effectively.  To do so, the department needs to have a thorough understanding of how conflict arises and what shapes the way that people respond to conflict. Human resource employees need to be aware of several key ideas that will help influence how conflict is dealt with in the workplace.  These include:

  • Conflict is normal. Many people tend to be conflict-adverse, and conflict can feel like the worst thing to happen. However, conflict is a very normal occurrence and can be helpful when dealt with constructively. Helping employees understand that conflict is a normal part of life can make it seem less debilitating to everyone involved.
  • Conflict can be positive. Dovetailing off the last point, conflict can be positive if it is dealt with effectively. Conflict often arises when there is an issue in a process or system that needs to be addressed.  By resolving the conflict, the system or process is also often resolved to be more efficient and better for anyone taking part.
  • Conflict is a misunderstanding. Often people approach conflict with the idea that there is a right and a wrong side.  However, most conflict arises out of a misunderstanding or a misperception rather than a clear right or wrong.

By keeping these principles of conflict in mind, the human resource department will often be able to approach conflict productively.  In addition to letting these principles guide the conflict resolution process, several other tips may help approach and resolve conflict effectively or create a system for resolving conflict.

Other Tips to Resolve Workplace Conflict Effectively:

  • Be Adaptable: No two conflicts will be exactly the same. Each person will come to a conflict with their own experiences and ideas shaping the way that they react. Human resource departments will often run into trouble when they apply a rigid process to any conflict that takes place.  While it is important to have a system in place that employees can expect if there is conflict, this system needs to be adaptable to the specific conflict.  While some conflicts may be resolved through a discussion with the parties, another conflict may need a more formal process like mediation.  Some people may need to be addressed one-on-one, while others may need a team around them.  Understanding the conflict will help indicate and shape the resolution process, but this can only be done if the process is adaptable.
  • Be Creative: A common issue in conflict resolution strategy is that the solutions proposed are often basic and require one or both sides to compromise. As a human resource department, it is often the goal to propose solutions, and being creative with these solutions can help resolve conflicts.  Understanding what the parties need as opposed to what they think they need, will help create effective solutions that resolve the matter fully.
  • Be Open: While there may be occurrences where it seems like there is a clear answer for the issue at hand, it is important to approach the resolution process with an open mind to discover the ways that the conflict may have layers that affect the resolution that are not as evident at the beginning. By being attentive and listening to all sides, a neutral solution can become apparent.
  • Be Encouraging: When a human resource department approaches conflict with too strict of rules, it can discourage the parties from working together. Approaching the conflict with an open mind and encouraging the parties to participate in the resolution together can help create a welcoming and open environment.  The best way to create this environment is to model the same behavior that you hope to see from the employees in your conversations with them.  By creating an open and encouraging conversation, the people in conflict will likely follow.
  • Become a Neutral: One of the best ways that human resource departments can handle conflict in the workplace is to become a neutral, either a mediator or a conciliator. By going through this training, human resource employees will learn a variety of conflict resolution skills and strategies that can help add to the creativity and problem-solving abilities of the department.  Understanding alternative dispute resolution will help create a conflict resolution model that helps employees find their own solutions and empowers them to move forward with new tools for conflict.

Conclusion

Conflict resolution is an important part of the human resource department and can help shape the culture of an organization.  Understanding the ways that conflict resolution influences the other tasks that a department may have can illustrate just how important a conflict prevention and resolution strategy can be to a company.  Understanding conflict and the ways to resolve conflict effectively can help create a system that adapts and resolves conflict in the best way for everyone involved.  When the human resource team understands how to resolve conflict, the organization as a whole is better equipped to face conflict head-on.

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