As a security operative, dealing with conflict within the workplace may very well be one of the most difficult tasks that you will have to undertake. When dealing with unpredictable behavior from the public, conflict can undoubtedly occur at any given moment, varying in both approach and delivery.
What is Conflict Management?
Conflict is defined as ‘a serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles or interests’.*As the protection and safety of people is the fundamental purpose of the private security industry, the skill to resolve conflict is crucial in assessing and reducing the risk of violence within the premises without the need for physical intervention, or the need to involve the law if necessary. This skill is called Conflict Management.
The Security Industry Authority (SIA) has recognised the Conflict Management Training course unit as a necessary discipline for every aspiring security operative. During your course you will learn how to be aware of the modes of conflict you may encounter, acquire skills to de-escalate conflicts, develop appropriate skills for effective communication in conflict-like situations, and establish strategies for managing similar conflicts in the future.
In this article we will address 4 basic Conflict Management strategies to help you understand how conflict can be resolved within the workplace.
1. Recognising Conflict
Before a problem can be solved, the cause of the problem must firstly be identified. Initiatives to preempt conflict-like situations can be put into practice by understanding basic patterns and characteristics of conflict. Sources of conflict can range from frustration of expectations not being met, inappropriate facilities, lack of information, communication blocks between yourself and the general public, and customer ignorance regarding the rules and policies of the venue. Conflict can be avoided by being forthcoming with information, and addressing queries and complaints in a patient and polite, personable manner.
However, the reason for conflict is not always apparent. Let’s imagine you are working inside a crowded licensed venue. How would you know what to look for? During your training you will be taught how to identify the earliest signs and stages of conflict through careful observation and scrutiny of customer body language. Conflict signals can range from non-verbal cues such as gestures and facial expressions, and more obvious verbal cues such as tone of voice and derogatory language.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that there is no extensive list of warning signs. As every reason for conflict is different, approaches to conflict will also differ from each person. Furthermore, habitual offenders of conflict may not show warning signs of any kind.
2. Addressing the Conflict
At this stage, whilst your attention is focused on the source and the immediate environment of the conflict, it is also important to be aware of your own actions. This is because your attitude and the way you handle the situation has power to defuse the conflict. Customers in the thick of conflict may respond to you in two different ways – emotionally or rationally. An emotional response will be based on feelings, whilst a rational response will be based on thinking. However, in this situation it is usual for a person’s emotion to cloud their rational thinking, thus triggering the instinct of ‘fight or flight’. This term simply refers to a spontaneous reaction to danger driven by a survival instinct. In order to manage the situation, the importance of positive, assertive behavior verbally and non-verbally is vital. Be cautious of your gestures, your eye-contact, tone and pitch of voice, and even your breathing pace. Through your methods of communication, are you portraying an image of a calm, self-controlled individual, or are you aggravating the situation by sending signals of passivity and aggression?
When dealing with the customer in conflict, in addition to speaking in a clear and controlled manner it is imperative that you maintain an appropriate distance from the customer, making sure not to invade their space. You will also be advised to give the customer an exit route, giving them the option to leave the situation at any time.
In some cases, you may find that despite your best efforts, barriers in communication may arise. Barriers to communication may be linguistic, physical, attitudinal and emotional. Overcoming a physical barrier may simply be rectified by moving to a quieter location. When dealing with lingual communication blocks, it is helpful to speak in simple terms whilst slowing your speech and restating the message as many times as necessary. Cultural awareness is useful in this regard, as is having respect for differing values. With all barriers, the ability to listen actively to facilitate understanding is extremely essential. As simple as it seems, listening enables you to identify the root of the problem and offer an appropriate solution. You can demonstrate this by providing solutions to customer queries, acknowledging their suggestions, and encouraging customers to register complaints if required.
Essentially, by behaving in a non-proactive and non-aggressive manner, you will be able to effectively contain various conflicting situations, which is integral to any conflict management strategy.
3. Solving the Conflict
Although you have managed to arbitrate the situation, the conflict must be brought to a peaceful conclusion. During your course you will be taught how to develop and use problem-solving strategies to completely resolve the situation. One strategy you will learn is the skill of empathy. By viewing the situation from the customers’ perspective and recognising their emotions, you are showing the customer that you appreciate and respect their point of view, which in turn makes them feel valued. This also allows for rational decision making. Whilst empathising does not necessarily mean that you are agreeing to the customers’ point of view, it definitely serves its purpose in calming the situation.
Developing a sense of trust through building a rapport with customers is also essential. If you are able to build trust, the customer in turn will listen to you more willingly. Trust between yourself and the customer can be simply created by finding common ground through mutual agreement on a way forward.
Granted that the conflict resolution approach has gone smoothly, your ultimate task will be to create a ‘win-win’ solution– a situation where customers feel they have been treated fairly and leave feeling satisfied. Effectively, at this point you are diverting attention from the conflict. On occasion, this could mean offering incentives in compliance with the venues management such as a free replacement drink, or refund on admittance in the venue.
4. Learning from the Conflict
The responsibilities of a security operative do not end with the resolution of conflict. As you are likely to encounter conflict continuously, it is imperative to reflect and learn from every encounter. If you are able to recognise uncommon trends of conflict, this will enable you to identify preventative measures to respond and perform even better in future situations. In addition to self-analysis, it is also useful to contribute and share expertise with team members. By doing so, as a team you will be able to highlight problems that re-occur and provide assistance in identifying and influencing long-term solutions to policies and strategies put into place by your employer.
Conflict Management is undeniably an indispensable skill. The basic elements of conflict management illustrated can not only be adapted to any organisation in any sector, but also for many situations we face in our day to day lives. Whilst every conflict situation may not come to an ideal conclusion, the focal components of effective communication, problem-recognition and problem solving should never be underestimated.