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DEALING WITH DIFFERENCES WITHIN THE ORGANISATION

Tim Millett
Published by Tim Millett
08 October 2013

There are always going to be differences within an organisation to just about anything related to the workplace. People will object to their work schedules, job assignments, goals, supervisor instructions, and team positions. They will also come into conflict with fellow workers or bring conflict into the workplace that really started at home due to family problems.

Of course, there is a difference between true conflict and a difference of opinion objection. A difference comes about when a person disapproves of an action, statement, or behaviour but is usually willing to seek resolution. A conflict is opposition that borders on irreconcilability without intervention. The difference can seem unimportant though when a manager, supervisor, or team leader is trying to overcome differences of opinion or what seem to be irreconcilable conflict between staff members.

Reacting to the Reaction

The first step in dealing with differences is to admit they will occur wherever people are found and that overreacting is a sure formula for escalating the issue. Reacting too quickly or too negatively to such a difference usually serves to make the objector defend their position more vehemently simply because no one wants their opinion to be minimised or treated as ridiculous.

Yet this is one of the most common reactions found in the workplace because managers have the same problems as departmental workers. They are too busy, have too much work to accomplish, are short on time, or are simply weary of hearing about such differences.

Yet these differences of opinion will arise regularly in any organisation so it’s important to be prepared to deal with them in a thoughtful and productive manner. This makes it sound like a simple process, but anyone who has had to overcome the disagreements of another person understands that such differences can escalate into conflict if not handled delicately.

Dealing with differences in the workplace is much easier when a true team has been built. Creating a strong team attitude means personnel have common goals which serve the unified good of the organisation. In other words, everyone is working toward achieving the same results, and discussions about rules, procedures, and projects are intended to improve the process.

When there is not a spirit of teamwork, objections may be more related to egoism and overcoming them can become more challenging. In an organisation which operates like a team, personal values mesh with the corporate culture and the success of the company is seen as individual success. When a company operates with disjointed staff, objections tend to be more personal.

Getting to the Source of the Objection

Dealing with differences requires a lot of sensitivity and care in understanding the true source of the difference. The first rule of thumb is to not make assumptions the objection you are hearing is the real issue at hand. The real issue may be a completely unrelated need that is not being met and the objection is being used as a form of communication.

Overcoming differences is a matter of effective communication that addresses the problem in a thoughtful and reasonable manner.

  • Gain an understanding of the other person’s perspective by asking questions
  • Develop listening skills in order to extract important information from responses to questions
  • Use listening skills to identify the true needs or issues the person is trying to address
  • Find common ground as a starting point for resolution
  • Give thoughtful answers which make sense and are not abrupt or dismissive
  • Give some ground to the objector even if it is small so the person is not left powerless
  • Always be honest even if the objector does not like the answer but support your responses with facts
  • Do not play the “blame game” because it is counter-productive
  • If unable to respond to the difference due to lack of information, make arrangements to meet again instead of responding off-the-cuff

It takes a lot of level-headed common sense when dealing with differences in the workplace. Resolution of conflict at any level requires the development of effective communication skills including both listening and speaking. Often, the biggest mistake managers make is responding too quickly to staff differences without fully understanding the real issue.

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