Blog supplied by HR expert Alison Schreiber of the HR Dept Durham:

Conflict happens. Whether you’re in it or witnessing it, conflict is a part of life that, at some point, everyone experiences.

Pretending not to see conflict also happens. For example, awkwardly navigating around the shoppers caught up in a queue-jumping debacle when you just wanted to get some milk.

We would agree, it’s best to stay out of some situations. However, when conflict arises between people in your business, it’s necessary to intervene.

Has coronavirus changed the way we manage conflict?

The core skills required to successfully manage conflict in the workplace haven’t changed. Think patience, good listening and communication skills, emotional intelligence, and negotiation.

However, you could be dealing with heightened emotions due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, if you are operating a customer facing business, you may also need to prepare and upskill your staff to manage and uphold the tighter restrictions that have been imposed in some areas.

For example, customers should not be in groups larger than six, and in some places, should not be meeting indoors with people they do not live with.

Your team are your front line and will need to be equipped and supported to manage the changing landscape of customer service at this time. You’re also going to need them to embrace teamwork like never before, to reduce the chances of you having to step in and mediate.

Improving conflict resolution during a crisis

Taking a preventative approach to people problems can save you time, money and an HR headache, especially when you have other important tasks to focus on and new guidance to comply with.

A good starting point is to address the channels and methods of communication in your business. Are they helping or hindering your employees? Are your staff informed and kept up to date with the fast-paced changes taking place?

Given the circumstances, it’s a good idea to brief employees when they start a shift to make sure they are up to speed on any important changes that have been implemented since they were last present.

Reiterate who they should report to that day if a situation arises where they need support.

Second to this, check for understanding and see if they have any questions. They undoubtedly will do and taking the time to listen could give you an insight into any other issues that may need your attention.

Improving communication and keeping employees informed can reduce the chances of conflict arising. The same can be said with your customers.

Through signage, announcements, and helpful handouts, you can advise on the rules that are in place for anyone entering your business. This should help to lower the chances of misunderstandings leading to difficult situations.

We would always advise having a policy in place to back up your actions. Whether detailing how you will resolve conflict between workers or a situation with a customer, a policy can ensure everyone is treated fairly, lower the risk of discrimination, and protect your business.

Lastly, have a think about any training you could introduce to further support your team at this time. Specific courses on conflict resolution, consumer rights, stress awareness and mental health awareness can all benefit your wider crisis management strategy. Ask us if you would like to know more about these courses.

Make time for mental health

Conflict can arise when a person is not feeling well, either physically or mentally. A buildup of stress can result in altered behaviour and a lack of patience.

By promoting good mental health in your business, you can educate employees on the importance of taking care of theirs. Make sure break times are adhered to and that they know who they can talk to if needed. An employee assistance programme can go one step further and provide confidential counselling when it’s needed the most.

Take care of your own mental health too. If some extra support will take a weight off your mind, we can help. Whether it’s putting preventative HR measures in place or advising on a situation that has just arisen, we’ll tell you what you can do rather than what you can’t.