Many people try to avoid conflict at all costs. Others tend to blame someone or something else for causing it. These responses do not resolve conflict and may make the situation worse.
Conflict is a normal part of life and there are many issues that could cause conflicts to arise within community organisations. Conflict can occur between employees, committee members, ordinary members, volunteers, clients or the community.
If not resolved, conflict can be highly destructive. However, committees can take steps to minimise potential situations of conflict before they arise or to resolve conflict constructively. The following sections discuss five of the most common factors that lead to conflict situations within organisations.
Conflict can arise from misunderstandings about:
- The nature, aims and objectives of a job
- Differing expectations about how things should be done
- Work conditions and wages
- The different responsibilities of management and employees
- Differences in values, beliefs, needs, or priorities
Communication relies on clear and complete messages being sent as well as being received. Problems can be reduced by paying attention to how well you send messages and how well you receive them. Both managers and workers are responsible for ensuring that these issues are considered. There are many ways to improve information flow and communication. Here are some suggestions:
- Keep message books/day books
- Keep policy books which include all policies as decided at meetings
- Hold regular staff/management meetings for passing on information
- Have frequent employee meetings
- Ensure correspondence is available for everyone to see
- Distribute minutes of all meetings promptly and widely
- Ensure there is clarity about what the objectives are and about what decisions have been made
- Ensure decisions are implemented
- Give everyone time to talk at meetings
- Try to spend twice as much time listening as you spend talking.
Unclear communication from staff to clients is another common source of conflict. It is vital that "house rules" are written down for clients, and that there are no variations in the interpretation of those rules. Distressed clients can very quickly become confused and angry if they feel that they are not being listened to - especially by those who say they care.
Lack of planning
Lack of planning often means an organisation moves from one crisis to the next. This sense of disorganisation and lack of direction can be stressful and can create many problems including misunderstandings. The time spent in planning will be recouped many times over in the more efficient use of workers' time, and in real and long-term benefits to clients.
Poor staff selection
Inappropriate selection of staff can result in ill-feeling and conflict. Feelings of ill-will may be increased by dismissing staff members.
While staff conflict problems can never be entirely avoided, they can be minimised with good staff selection procedures. Considering existing staff views when approaching staff selection will help minimise conflicts in the workplace.
For a more detailed discussion of these issues, see Chapter 5: Volunteers, in this manual.
Frustration, stress and burnout
When people become frustrated or stressed they are more irritable and more likely to create conflicts than at other times. It is important to recognise the signs of stress in people's work situations in order to prevent burnout. Try to help people identify the causes of work related stress, and take steps to change these factors or, better still, try to anticipate possible causes of stress before they arise. These factors could include:
- Threats of violence or actual violence
- Overcrowding or lack of privacy
- Verbal abuse
- Dirty or untidy work space
- Continual crises
- Lack of ability to influence the working environment
- Tension between staff members
- Lack of direction from management
- Criticism and lack of support
- Poor communication