NOBODY is a stranger to conflict. Everybody experiences it in their daily lives — with families, friends and increasingly in their professional lives.

Conflict in the workplace causes many people discomfort, anger, frustration, sadness and even pain.

More organisations are employing teams of employees from different geographic locations, with diverse cultural and cognitive backgrounds and various outlooks. In the workplace where individuals have differing opinions, there are bound to be disagreements sooner or later.

Conflict can happen when different views or opinions come to light. When conflict occurs, the idea is not to prevent disagreements, but to resolve and manage conflicts effectively.

When individuals or teams are able to use appropriate resolution tools to address an issue, they are able to keep their differences from escalating into problems. If issues can be viewed constructively as nothing more than different points of views, it sets the stage for positive outcomes.

Establishing some type of conflict management process within an organisation is far better than allowing avoidance, denial, passive-aggressive indirectness or plotting to get even.

In the conflict resolution process, both individuals and teams are able to explore and understand their differences and use the information to interact in a more positive and productive manner.

Here are five basic steps to follow in resolving a conflict:

1.Identify a safe place and time to talk

To allow for constructive conversation, individuals generally need to feel that they are in a “safe place” — one that allows them to take the risk involved for honest communication about the issues at hand. This means finding a private and neutral room, or a location that isn’t the office of either parties.

Ensure the amount of time for a meeting is acceptable and appropriate for all parties. Complex disagreements cannot be resolved in 15 minutes or less. If time is limited, determine the criteria for the discussion and then fix a time and date for immediate follow-up.

2.Clarify individual perceptions

It is important that each party involved in the conflict has an opportunity to express his perception or understanding of the conflict. An issue can’t be solved if you are unclear about the problem.

Start by sorting out the parts of the conflict. Get straight to the heart of the matter and avoid any unrelated issues not pertaining to the conflict at hand. Identify issues clearly and concise, and do not be emotional.

3.Practise taking an active and empathetic listening stance

To obtain a positive outcome in negotiating solutions to workplace conflict, it is vital that you resist the desire to force your ideas onto others. Instead, make a concerted effort to listen to what is being conveyed.

By advocating empathy, team members are able to identify the thoughts or feelings of the other person and have the capacity to understand the other person’s point of view. When teams take a listening stance into the negotiation process, they set the scene for the opportunity to share their concerns about the conflict.

4.Generate options for a win-win outcome

In conflict resolution, a win-win strategy is a process that aims to accommodate all parties and arises out of sense of fairness.

Begin by taking one concern at a time, starting with an issue that the parties agree is worthy of discussion. Generate several possible solutions to the problem by collectively brainstorming ideas. Write down the various ideas on a flip chart. Defer any judgments or evaluations at this stage until all ideas have been presented to the group.

Clarify the criteria that the individuals or team will use for evaluating options. This ensures everyone is on the same page. With mutually acceptable criteria, good solutions become easier to formulate.

5.Develop an agreement that works for all

During the conclusion of the negotiation process and when the team has reached an agreement regarding solutions to each of the problems, summarise the ideas and put them in writing. Restate them to each other to ensure everyone agrees with both the intent of the solution and how it is to be carried out.

As the conversation comes to a close, leave the session with a commitment to implement the plans you have just created.

So, next time an issue or concern arises at the workplace, don’t avoid it by acting like an ostrich with its head in the sand. Employ your conflict resolutions skills and face the issue head on before it escalates into a conflict requiring intervention.