2 effective strategies to manage conflicts in companies

Letting unsolved business conflicts escalate can have unforeseen consequences and trigger a drop in productivity.

This article is based on research by Teresa Duplá

With few exceptions, managing conflicts in companies has been a no man's land for years. Letting unsolved business conflicts escalate can have unforeseen consequences and trigger a drop in productivity and employee motivation.

Teresa Duplá, Director of the Conflict Management Research Group, has published a research-backed book that reveals how to prevent and manage conflicts in companies. The publication, Conflict management: New models and efficient management tools in the corporate world, is a joint collaboration with global companies and institutions involved in this research field.

Companies need to have a conflict prevention mechanism

Managing conflicts in companies requires addressing two major aspects: "Companies need to have a conflict prevention mechanism and to provide employees with the right tools for resolving conflictive and illicit actions," says Duplá.

business meeting
Employees discussing work-related matters (Photo: SPS Universal/Unsplash)

In her book, the author outlines two key strategies for successfully managing internal conflicts in companies.

1. Prevention is better than cure

A code of conduct is the cornerstone of an effective strategy for preventing conflicts arising in companies. The book analyses the code of conduct of General Electric, which is summarised in five principles. These written norms help define what a company considers 'appropriate conduct' and are:

  1. An employee must be honest, fair and trustworthy in all of her company-related activities and relationships.
  2. An employee must obey the laws and regulations governing the business. To comply with this requirement, companies must provide employees with information about current law and, in particular, the norms applicable to her specific role in the company.
  3. An employee who reports any concerns regarding compliance with law or company policy should never be punished. The employee must be fully protected and not suffer consequences. This aspect is essential to gain employees' trust to report suspicious activities.
  4. Appropriate conduct also means equal opportunities in the workplace for employees, regardless of gender, cultural origin, and so on.
  5. A company must also define what constitutes a conflict of interest to spot potentially inappropriate conduct.

2. The need to detect conflict

The use of open reporting is another effective strategy for reducing and managing conflict in companies. This lets employees internally report inappropriate corporate conduct. The book analyses General Electric's open reporting system, through which employees and third parties may anonymously express their concerns about policy violations.

Open reporting is an effective strategy for reducing conflict in companies

"This mechanism is effective because it allows the management team to conduct internal investigations and notify the authorities in a voluntary way, an aspect that could lead to a more beneficial sentence," says Romain Vallet, Head of Law & Policy Iberia at General Electric Spain.

To be able to detect conflict and irregularities, companies need to create internal channels that let employees report unusual conduct. Today, technological advances allow for anonymous reporting and status tracking.

However, such online reporting tools can also have drawbacks, as the book's research shows: "An employee whose job is at stake could use false reporting to avoid getting fired," the author warns.

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