Conflict resolution 101 for SMEs

Posted on February 18th, 2015
Business Skills & Planning

Conflict resolution 101 for SMEs

Conflict is as natural as breathing. When people are required to live, work or play together, there is always the potential for conflict.
In fact, various studies show that as much as 60% of human resource (HR) management time is spent on managing and resolving workplace conflict.
In a small business environment where HR departments may not be working in full force as yet and colleagues are working closely in every aspect of the business, workplace conflict is almost inevitable.

See also: How smart leaders resolve workplace conflicts

Within a small business, conflict can arise from opposing ideas, opinions, decisions and actions relating to work or personal matters.
Irrespective of the type of conflict, if not managed properly, it can have a significantly negative impact on a business from decreased productivity and lowered morale, to increased absenteeism and staff turnover.
Conflict as communication
However, not all conflict is negative, it depends on the type of conflict and how well it is managed. If workplace conflict centered on a work related matter is managed well, it can have a positive impact on a business in the long run.

“Do not mediate if you are directly involved in the issue”

After all, conflict is a form of communication that allows varying perspectives and ideas to be presented and analysed. This results in an opportunity to focus on a common goal and compromise.
Leadership and mediation 
To successfully manage and resolve conflict requires strong leadership. Widely regarded as one of the most challenging functions of people management, conflict management or dispute resolution demands specific skills and if not done properly, can have the opposite effect. Difficult for many small businesses to juggle along with the day-to-day running of their business, many companies choose to bring in the unbiased and professional skills of a mediator.

Some suggested tactics for successful resolution:
•    Remain completely objective, do not mediate if you are directly involved in the issue, either personally or professionally, rather refer the matter to another manager or outsourced professional.
•    Ensure that you identify a common goal up front and continually focus the discussion and interaction on that goal.
•    Set a deadline for the desired resolution.
•    Ask that all parties involved present their arguments professionally and respectfully.
•    Request that they present research and facts to back up their suggestions and opinions.
•    Encourage the opposing sides to acknowledge and compliment proposals and ideas that warrant it.
•    Brainstorm all suggestions, ideas, opinions and arguments in the hope that the process will reveal a compromise or spark innovation.
With your business in its infancy stage, the ideal situation is to create a workplace culture that invites and welcomes individual thinking, diverse opinions and conflict conversations underpinned by the values of respect, open-mindedness and humility.
This culture will foster a team environment that sees and realises the value of conflict as a constructive rather than destructive natural process.

About the author: Kay Vittee is the CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions (Pty) Ltd one of South Africa’s leading staffing solutions provider. She’s a business woman holding a Masters in Business Administration, a B.Com (Banking and Economics) and various other financial and marketing qualifications. Kay’s business acumen and success have made her a sought after speaker and thought leader.