When conflict develops, it needs to be treated seriously. Causes could include misunderstanding or miscommunication, dishonesty, negligence, bullying (verbal and physical), personality clashes, religious and cultural differences (differences in beliefs), favouritism or differences in opinion over how things should be done.
The first step in understanding conflict should be to encourage open discussion between the people involved, without allowing it to become personal. This requires great patience on your part, especially when dealing with people’s beliefs.
- Listen - Listen to the complaint and identify the key points. It may help to repeat these back to ensure you have understood correctly.
- Talk to all involved - If another person or group is involved, talk to them as soon as possible. If the source of the conflict is you, e.g. the team disagree with the way you do things, try not to take it personally. Treat the situation as you would any other conflict.
- Be objective – Do not prejudge the issue and try to get all sides of the story.
Addressing and resolving conflict
Ignoring conflict and hoping it will disappear is extremely destructive; it creates tension, stress, and ill-feeling. Unaddressed conflict will fester until it reaches crisis point, which may result in the loss of a key employee or unpleasant behaviours.
Do not expect a completely acceptable solution first time. Successful conflict resolution involves negotiating a way forward and compromise on both sides. Having an agreed plan in place which is regularly updated can be a good place to start.
Once you have the facts:
- Discuss the issue - get the various parties together to discuss the issue and find a way forward with you as a mediator.
- Resolve the issue - you could use a professional mediator to resolve the issue (third party).
- Take disciplinary action – you many need to take this step.
When addressing issues:
- Stick to the issue concerned and avoid getting side-tracked by other non-relevant issues
- Deal with one thing at a time and do not get caught up in feelings, emotions or personal issues
- Be positive and have the desire to resolve the issue
- Stick to the present don’t introduce irrelevant historical issues
- Be honest
- Acknowledge your error if you are wrong you must admit it
- End positively by putting the issue in perspective; emphasise the positive aspects of your relationship.
Violence or repeat offences
In these cases there may be no option but to take disciplinary action and a clearly defined process should be followed in these instances. In cases where staff need to be dismissed, it is a good idea to seek professional legal advice before (or as soon as possible after) making the decision.
Records are especially important in cases that lead to disciplinary action or dismissal. Ensure you keep a record of the complaint containing the information listed below and give copies to all parties involved:
- The date it was raised,
- the key points on both sides,
- the action taken.
Of course, it is always better if conflict can be avoided in the first place, rather than to have to deal with it. Encourage an open-door policy on farm where staff feel comfortable letting you know about issues as they arise.
You may be interested in doing a regular Team Pulsecheck to monitor the feeling in your workplace.
It may also be helpful to become part of a programme where staff can seek independent support on issues.