Diversity is a wonderful thing, it allows for so many new perspectives, ideas, and appreciations for differences – but sometimes these differences aren’t easily understood, or there is a lack of respect from individuals, and this can cause conflict, and in the workplace, this isn’t just disruptive, but it can also cause serious legal issues and reputational damage.
In the UK, 4 out 5 employees reported they don’t feel equally heard at work with 85% of employees agreeing that conflict in the workplace is inevitable. These statistics emphasis the commonality of workplace conflicts.
Handling diversity conflicts has to be done sensitively, and in a way that doesn’t just resolve the immediate issue, but takes action to prevent it from occurring again.
How Should Conflict Resolution be Handled?
There are a number of different methods to handle conflict, but they shouldn’t be used as a one-size fits all approach – depending on what is causing the conflict, and the parties involved, you may need to think outside of the box or consult experts on the matter.
The first step to resolution does apply in every case: don’t ignore it. Even if the conflict is something of a fleeting or trivial nature, it’s important that you identify what has caused the issue, and then decide where to go from there.
Clarification of the issue is the next important step – is it a conflict that you, as an employer, need to be involved with? Has the issue infringed any of your company visions or values? Have the actions violated any rights of the parties involved? Are there any legal ramifications (both of the action of the involved people and if there is inaction on the part of the business).
Situations that involve issues of diversity or protected characteristics are often more complex than other conflicts, and your actions will depend on the seriousness of the problem, generally on a case by case basis.
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How Can You Resolve Diversity Conflicts?
An effective strategy, when working with a diverse team, is to have processes and procedures in place before they become needed – and this is certainly true with conflict resolution.
When putting your processes in place or into action, you need to consider:
- What is your diversity policy?
Look carefully at your company vision, values, and ethical stance, as well as local and state laws, international laws (where applicable), and best practice for your industry.
Your diversity policy should clearly define how you treat the issue of diversity, how you expect your employees to behave, what is unacceptable – and the consequences of violating the policy.
- Providing sensitivity training
If you’re working with a group, who perhaps haven’t had much outside experience with particular areas of diversity, make sure you provide educational tools and the ability to ask questions in a safe environment. It’s far better to provide an environment where people can communicate and learn appropriate behaviour.
- Not jumping straight to judgement
As we mentioned, sometimes conflict arises from a lack of understanding, but it’s important to be aware that some people aren’t good at expressing themselves – and what may come across as a policy violation could be a lack of education and understanding that their actions are not appropriate. When dealing with a conflict, look at both sides of the issue – yes, there are situations where you may find the offender set out to be deliberately offensive and knowingly initiated a conflict; but you may also find that someone genuinely didn’t realise their words or actions had been taken in the manner it had.
Being fair and impartial may be difficult, especially if you have attention from others who are judging you based on their own bias and understanding of the situation – but it’s important that you don’t let that interfere with your assessment.
- Encouraging communication
Not everyone who is involved in a diversity conflict will be willing to speak about the issue, and that right to privacy should be respected. However, as cliché and obnoxious as the phrase “lessons will be learned” is, this is one case where it truly applies – carefully evaluate the situation: what caused it? could it have been prevented? how did it affect the individuals and the team? What would someone need to know in order for the issue to be prevented in the future?
Once you have the answers, you can create an information sheet or email, and circulate it to your team. Take care that it doesn’t identify individuals if they don’t want their identities revealed.
This has really only just touched on the tip of the iceberg, and there is a lot to consider and work through when handling diversity and diversity conflicts. But just like with any issue, taking a calm, measured, transparent, and fair approach is the best for all involved.