Conflict is regarded as normal and part of life. Human beings are so unique from each other that disagreements may occur due to diverse needs. In many cases, people do not voice their grievances and unhappiness for fear of offending someone and, as a result, avoiding conflict. This can be as bad as heated disagreements, with issues simmering in the background.
Managing conflict in care can be a minefield. Conflict is mostly associated with raised voices, frustration and heated arguments which give someone a bad reputation at the workplace. It is sometimes regarded as a good thing based on our response, whether it's made a destructive or creative process. In the work environment, conflict is unfortunately inevitable. The truth is that when two or more people come together to exchange ideas, the conflict doorway is already open.
A smart administration should be responsible for recognising conflict, managing conflict resolution, and ensuring that conflict resolution strategies are perfectly executed. In order for a care home administration to achieve this goal, there is a need to recognise the constructive and destructive types of conflict.
Constructive conflict is regarded as being beneficial to colleagues, employees and clients. This style keeps focus on the issue while it continues to respect the opinions of other parties. Employees will exhibit cooperation, flexibility and be supportive of each other.
Many outside factors may result in conflict. Limited resources can expose co-workers to stress. If a care home employee is worried about the insufficiency of resources for his or her clients, there are possibilities that he or she may demonstrate an elevated level of stress, which in turn may have an influence on any slight friction between parties. Differences in aims and objectives can also give rise to tension between staff. One worker may focus on satisfying all clients at the expense of gaining more income for the organisation, while another may be more concerned and dedicated to conducting research and attaining job performance. This difference of goals and how they affect the patients may result in an increase in tension and conflict between staff.
Deconstructive conflict displays selfish behaviours, including insults, personal attacks and defensiveness. This type of conflict does not present any form of flexibility within the workplace, especially where high competition exists between the workers. Managing conflict in the workplace helps to develop cordial relationships among employees.
To effectively manage conflict in care homes, the first and basic step is to identify the various conflicts experienced by a person. Once this has been done, management can identify appropriate responses to perfectly resolve the conflict. Managing conflicts at a care home involves discussion, conversation and practice of certain conflict management and resolution skills.
Causes of conflicts in the workplace
Conflicts occur in the workplace due to differences in personalities and values. Managing conflicts in a timely manner is paramount to enjoying a healthy work environment. An inaccurate assumption is to believe that a conflict will disappear on its own because conflicts will grow. Simple conflicts can become major problems if not appropriately managed. It is, therefore, necessary for managers to understand the causes of conflict in the workplace, in order to find a solution before they become bigger issues that cannot be managed. The major causes of conflicts in the workplace are listed below:
Misunderstanding is one of the major causes of conflict in the workplace. A great way to curb this is to avoid making assumptions. It is better to make agreements, once there is an agreement, misunderstandings can be reduced to a minimum by giving full attention, being able to understand non-verbal messages, and showing a willingness to cooperate.
Protection response -
Sometimes people will naturally decide to fight which steers conflict with someone else. They make wrong assumptions and this results in conflicts with other people or even wrong choices in other cases.
Pressure points -
Everyone has certain pressure points that result in them reacting to certain situations. In most cases, there might be a particular action or word that triggers strong behaviours and emotions. Learning what these are amongst staff can help avoid problems further down the line.
Personal problems -
Care staff are human. Sometimes it is unavoidable for staff to bring their personal problems to their workplace. They may not obviously demonstrate their emotions but it still finds a way of affecting their mood, levels of performance and motivation. When senior staff bring their personal problems to work, it results in aggression towards workers which may lead to conflicts.
Previous experiences -
Sometimes bad experience in people’s life or career influences their mode of reaction to issues. Harsh treatment by previous managers often affect people’s mode of learning and reaction from such situations and, as a result, act differently next time in order to prevent being taken advantage of.
The motivations and behaviours of many are usually driven by their beliefs and values. There are times when people come across managers or colleagues who ask them to go against their beliefs and values. When this happens it will most likely result in an internal conflict.
Panic stations -
Many people judge situations instantly based on previous knowledge or belief they have concerning the situation. Many people react in a certain way because they panic about the situation. These people later realise that their assumptions have not been true and their actions must have spurred conflicts at the workplace.
How can you minimise conflict occurrence?
Conflict, as stated earlier, is inevitable in today's working environments, where we can find many people who have dramatically different work styles, values, personalities and communication styles. It can have a negative impact on people's lives. Managing conflict in care homes can be made even more difficult due to the added pressures placed on staff and management regarding time, budgets and lack of medical resources. Many workplace conflicts can be minimised if we take the following suggested steps:
Provide conflict resolution training
The negative impact of conflict can be reduced by helping employees within the workplace develop the necessary conflict resolution skills they require in their lives. This gives more confidence to people to be able to resolve any form of conflict, either personally or professionally. Empowering employees at work with conflict resolution training also enables people to effectively address minor conflicts when they occur rather than allowing them to degenerate into major distractions.
Provide communication skills training
Another important course that should be provided for employees at work is regarding communication skills. Such courses can help employees communicate more effectively and enable them to work more closely with colleagues and management. Poor communication is one of the major causes of organisational conflict.
Develop strong communication channels
A manager should constantly seek to improve communication within his department by strategically organising that flow of information up and down the chain. Methods can include informational and solution-seeking meetings, and the utilisation of a range of communication tools. Things like face-to-face discussions, texting, online meetings, voice mail and e-mail are all helpful if managed correctly.
Help staff develop positive work relationships
Managers should permit the employees under them to feel more comfortable and get to know each other better. By creating opportunities for social interaction inside and outside the work environment employees will respond better under pressure.
Treat everyone fairly
This seems obvious; unfortunately, many managers are often accused of preferential treatment. Managers should always seek to ensure they are treating everyone fairly, regardless of position. Preferential behaviour can be a major cause of workplace conflict and only by remaining completely unbiased can a truly trust-based relationship develop.
Managing conflict in care
Necessary steps in managing conflict
Identify the problem. To effectively manage conflicts in the workplace, the management needs to take time to define the conflict issues from the perspective of all parties so that an acceptable outcome can be negotiated. Work around emotive issues and focus on the flashpoints (actions/words that led to the disagreement). Once you have an idea of what brought the issue to a head, you can look at the root causes behind them and take measures to remove emotion and offer a solution.
Work out what you want out of the conflict
Make sure management has a sound understanding of what the outcome will look like, considering the views of all those involved in the conflict. Decide what the best solution would be for the care home, the staff involved and how possible outcomes could be perceived by both parties.
Evaluate a solution
In order to decide on the best result from the available options, the pros and cons of each one, based on the budgetary constraints and mutual benefit, need to be weighed up. When evaluating and discussing options it is most likely that each party will prefer the odds to be in their favour, regardless of the impact it has on their counterpart. In these cases, there is a need to reach a compromise and negotiate to ensure that both parties are satisfied with the agreement.
The art of compromise
Compromise does not always mean losing. However, it may also mean developing ways to meet the need of both parties by making concessions in the process. Compromise involves your readiness to negotiate what you are prepared to do or not do, to get what you want. There should be an open ground for good debate rather than manipulation or pressure from the other party. Both parties need to be closed to threats and open to reason. In very difficult conflicts situations, a mediator might be required. The mediator in the conflict must be unbiased and not have any personal interest pertaining to the outcome. Those who are responsible for managing conflict in care environments should set out processes that allow for mediation, ideally with a member of staff trained specifically to deal with this kind of issue.
Decide on a mutually acceptable solution
All available options for resolution must be tabled and carefully considered. Managing conflict in care homes requires that you take your time to look at the bigger picture. Once all options have been put forward you can decide on a single option that all parties are more likely to agree to. It is essential to ensure that each person involved agrees to the terms of the decision. This could be with a written agreement or a letter that clearly outlines what both parties agree on.
Separate your feelings from the problem
It is very difficult to reach reasonable solutions when people let their emotions get mixed up in an argument. If someone decides to take a strong position on the argument because of how they feel, it becomes difficult to work out an appropriate solution to the conflict because their perception of the problem is being controlled by certain things which most likely have no correlation to the actual problem.
Managing conflict in care-related environments requires unbiased mediation. When the issue does not revolve around negligence, it is important to not focus on who is right or wrong. Placing blame and arguing will achieve nothing other than increasing the tension amongst workers and also reduce the possibility of resolving the conflict. It is advisable to encourage all parties to set their feelings aside and think logically about how such disagreements may be causing damage to the business or their patients. When managing conflict in care homes, it may not seem that a disagreement will impact patient care, but if the conflict is affecting staff, it is very likely to also be felt by those who are being cared for.
Act and speak calmly
Arguing with a colleague or an employee could lead to a large scale confrontation at any level. It is advisable that staff are encouraged to listen carefully to what others have to say without knee-jerk reactions. Likewise, where possible managers should listen attentively without interrupting them. Showing interest by listening to what staff have to say encourages them to be honest and to come back if any future issues occur. Management should encourage a positive attitude at all times whilst asking clarifying questions to ensure any grievances have been properly understood.
Be patient and understanding
If, as a manager, you find yourself in a heated argument with an employee or colleague, let them have their say and do not interrupt them. If they are allowed to have their say, they will be a lot calmer to reason with. The conflict can then be managed in a more civilised manner. It is a good practice to acknowledge their opinions and then take the time to explain how the issues relate to the bigger picture.
Sometimes in the heat of the moment employees may forget how their actions impact others. In a care home, it is extremely important to remember why you are there. Try and make time for the conversation and if it becomes too heated suggest that the conversation be held away from others. Remember the rules on the duty of care and respect in the home. These don’t just apply to the patients, they also apply to care workers. Even if they are wrong and have overstepped the line, do not discipline them in front of others. Respect is earned and, quite often, comes from using discretion when dealing with conflict.
Prepare proper documentation
Properly documenting disagreements is important in any workplace. Recording accurate information about conflicts, complaints and their outcomes is necessary to ensure that any process remains fair. If the conflict resumes at a later date or escalates, proving that you have followed a responsible process will ensure that appropriate action can be taken without an increase in risk.
This information can also reveal areas of the workplace that are not in order and highlight procedures that require change. Everyone is entitled to a bad day. Managing conflict in care homes is as important as looking after your patients. It may take time to implement an effective plan and set of procedures to deal with underlying issues but it is a necessity if you are to gain the trust of others and ensure a high CQC rating.
At Flexebee, we offer a wide range of training courses for those involved in care home management. These include:
For more training related to conflict management, take a look at our Safeguarding training courses.