Staff conflict will be an unavoidable by-product of what promises to be a testing 2010

Giving up chocolate. Going without wine. Being more patient with your mother-in-law. One month into the New Year how are your resolutions standing up? There are many worth sticking to. The most productive, however, might be a concerted effort to avoid conflict in the workplace.

Avoid starting sentences with, “you always…” or “you never…”

Staff conflict will be an unavoidable by-product of what promises to be a testing 2010. Just look at the pressures bearing down on the NHS in the next 12 months.

The NHS Confederation’s Dealing with the downturn report says this year and next will be “tough but manageable”, and beyond that things will be “very different and extremely challenging” as the health service faces up to a massive funding shortfall.

Add to that accident and emergency waiting time targets under public scrutiny and a swine flu virus we have not yet seen the curly tail of, and workplace tension and discord are inevitable in the fast moving, cash constrained health sector.

There are several ways to handle quarrels. However, how they are managed affects staff performance, and it is important that employees are able to resolve matters positively and productively.

The best and most obvious way, of course, is to avoid disagreement in the first place. Given the circumstances, steering clear of all conflict as a new year’s resolution is surely unrealistic.

Instead, there are six traps you should, if you can help it, avoid falling into.

First, avoid being defensive. Denying responsibility might seem to alleviate stress in the short term, but it often creates long term tension that grows the longer the issue is left without being confronted.

Second, don’t over generalise. Avoid starting sentences with, “you always…” or “you never…”

It is guaranteed to ignite a longer argument over who did what when.

Always being right is a no-win situation. Don’t demand that people see things the same way, and don’t take it as a personal attack if people have a different opinion from yours.

No one is a mind reader. Don’t come over all Dr Freud and decide you “know” what people are thinking and feeling. Your assumptions are likely to be based only on faulty interpretations of their actions.

Don’t forget to listen. Some people interrupt, roll their eyes, and rehearse what they are going to say next instead of truly listening - make sure it is not you.

Finally, respect people, even if you don’t like their behaviour. Making things personal by attacking a person’s character will only intensify any dispute and make it all the more difficult to bounce back from, and can lead to long term grudges.

If a conversation still needs to be had, there is nothing wrong with laying your cards on the table and shooting straight from the hip. But it should be done calmly, respectfully and in the right environment to clear the air.

If you find you are still at a stage where this can’t be achieved, how about that bar of chocolate and a nice glass of wine?