How to constructively address conflict in the mining workplace

Conflict resolution

A workplace conflict expert shares her advice on how to avoid and resolve those gnarly arguments in your mining workplace.

Conflict in the workplace isn’t just unpleasant for everyone concerned, it can be incredibly counterproductive.

Yet, even in the most harmonious of workplaces, conflict is at least occasionally inevitable. Differences of opinions happen. But when they happen, it’s what you do next that matters.

That’s according to Catherine Gillespie, Australia’s foremost expert on workplace conflict resolution. She’s written extensively about conflict avoidance and management on her blog.

The following tips are based on Catherine’s advice for constructive conflict resolution, and any mining industry manager can apply these tips to a situation in their workplace:

Step 1: Acknowledge that you have to address a situation

Don’t let things fester. If you recognise that a problem is brewing, then early

intervention will save time and energy. It also creates the best opportunity for improved outcomes and restored relationships. All too often, we let a situation go on for too long; we let it fester and get worse. Don’t do this. Seize the moment, instead.

Step 2: Take a deep breath, clear your mind and set your intent

So, what does dealing with the situation look like? Well, it starts by being calm and measured and having a focused conversation, rather than a reactive one.

Catherine recommends preparing for this conversation using what’s commonly called the GROW model.

  • Goal: Identify the outcome desired.
  • Reality: What is the current situation? How far are you from the goal?
  • Obstacles or options: What is standing in the way of achieving the goal? What options are available to remove those barriers?
  • Way forward: What actions can be taken to help reach the goal?

Step 3: Engage in active listening

Next, begin your enquiry into the situation. This is still a conversation. You need to listen, ask questions and let each person know you have heard and understood them.

When you acknowledge someone’s perspective, there is a greater chance they will listen to and acknowledge your own perspective.

Step 4: Have constructive conversations

It’s important to be assertive but to avoid judgmental or potentially destructive comments.

This is not about being nice (“playing nice”, Catherine argues, only leads to more problems—from increased absences, reduced performance, and stress leave to negative team dynamics and more resignations). It’s about coming to grips with what it is wrong and finding constructive outcomes.

Speak from behind the “organisational filter”. Remember that you are representing the organisation. This is not about you.

Step 5: Get the mileage you need out of the situation

All too often managers find these kinds of conversations uncomfortable and look for an early exit, rather than capitalising on the real gains that can be made.

Before bringing the conflict resolution process to a close, check that all parties have a clear understanding of the situation and what’s expected of them. Clarify any agreements, document them and, if necessary, send an email. It is vital at this point that managers commit to regularly following up, to keep communication channels open, to build on the conversations you’ve had, and to ensure the agreement is fulfilled.

How to be a good conflict resolution manager

Catherine argues that all managers should increase the number of “conversation contacts” they have with staff. These conversations provide opportunities to be clear about expectations and allow staff to give opinions and raise issues.

Having more detailed and robust conversations more often will promote a productive, effective and harmonious team.

When a conflict occurs, Catherine says a smart manager will know when resolving the situation requires specialist external help from a conflict resolution specialist, and they’ll seek that help early.

Catherine Gillespie has lots of fantastic tips for workplace conflict resolution, on her blog.

Mining People International has more than 27 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies find the best candidates across every job category. Find out more here or get in touch today.

Dan Hatch
Mining People International