Conflicts in the workplace usually happen when organizational, as well as personal, goals and values are not met. Whether you’re working in a big or small company, you’re likely not a stranger to the occasional conflict coming up now and then. And even if you are not involved, these issues affect the way you and everyone else in the office work.
As a leader, what can you do to stop these fires from spreading out? Conflict is an ordinary part of our professional life. Tabitha Liburd LLB., LEC., a conflict management strategist, shares, “Conflict is an inevitable part of any relationship or organization. It can range from minor disagreements to major conflicts that can negatively impact both personal and professional relationships. The key to effective conflict resolution is building trust.” And to build trust within your teams, you need to hone your management and resolution skills.
There’s no better time than now to learn how to manage and resolve workplace conflicts. As a leader, being armed with effective workplace conflict management skills can help you mitigate minor problems, thus preventing them from turning into bigger crises. Find out in our article how you can manage and resolve conflicts in your workplace today!
Tips for Managing Workplace Conflicts
Not all workplace conflicts are bad. A 2014 study suggests that good workplace conflict can drive employee productivity and encourage innovative ideas. It also allows employees to recognize and respect other people’s opinions and understand them better. A properly handled and resolved conflict can make teams more cohesive and inspire them to create better solutions.
Unfortunately, conflicts can escalate and become dysfunctional. This results in negative effects for the entire workplace. It becomes detrimental to everyone on the team, affecting anything from productivity to employee retention. This, in turn, impacts the entire company. Conflict management is necessary to get everyone back to optimal working conditions.
When faced with a difficult situation, anyone can feel overwhelmed or stressed. It is important for all parties to remain level-headed and see a clear picture of the situation. To effectively resolve workplace conflicts, the mediator should be a skilled communicator. Likewise, affected parties should strive to communicate calmly. These factors help create the right environment for resolution.
Here are some tips you can use to help resolve conflicts in your workplace:
- Address the source of workplace issues immediately
- Set expectations for how to address the conflict
- Investigate the issue thoroughly
- Determine solutions and establish common ground
- Evaluate if there is a need for a follow-up
Tip #1: Address the source of workplace issues immediately
Everyone in the workplace gets affected when there is an ongoing conflict. It can significantly impact work performance, productivity, and general overall health.
Janis Bull, a workplace and commercial mediator, shares:
Conflicts in the workplace can have significant emotional effects on the individuals involved, as well as the entire work environment. It is important for companies to take steps to address conflicts in a timely and effective manner to minimize these effects and maintain a positive work environment.
When conflict emerges at work, it is important to recognize that it is happening and resolve it promptly. One of the most vital things you can do is to define its cause. Don’t simply come up with a band-aid solution to over it up. You can start by asking questions like when it started, who is involved, and what is the main issue to be resolved. Use a variety of specific questions to get as much information and have all perspectives on the situation.
It’s important that you work with all affected parties and listen to their concerns separately. Likewise, discourage those who are not involved in the conflict from involving themselves in the mediation unless requested. This ensures the privacy of the concerned parties.
Tip #2: Set expectations for how to address the conflict
According to a Forbes article, one way you can set expectations with your employees is through accountability and engaging with them in conversation. Setting your employees’ expectations can help you facilitate their situation more efficiently. It goes both ways: your employees understand what you expect from them and can tell you what they expect from your mediation. You’ll have a clearer picture of what needs to happen and figure out ways to achieve it.
When setting expectations on resolving the conflict, be sure to identify the areas of conflict of the concerned parties. Ask for their perspective on how the situation escalated. Summarize and make sure they agree with your current assessment before moving on.
When there’s a workplace conflict, employees look to their team leader to take direction. And while managing a conflict can be a difficult situation, a capable leader doesn’t back down from the challenge. Carolyn Ortman, an international senior corporate trainer, sums it up:
Leaders make difficult decisions every day – which can make them unpopular. But who said leadership was a popularity contest? I’m not suggesting we trounce on people’s feelings and rights. Far from it! When we speak the truth as leaders we gain so much: respect, integrity, and trust.
Conflict management is one essential skill you need in your leadership toolbox. Our article 7 Key Leadership Strategies for Managing Conflict on Your Team can help you solve professional conflicts smoothly.
Tip #3: Investigate the issue thoroughly
How you lead the resolution matters as a leader. Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, says:
It’s tricky to know the full picture of what’s going on. Circumstances change. Strategies evolve. Organizational restructuring, change in direction, and company politics can easily derail a well-meaning leader’s intentions. If you feel strongly that what happened wasn’t fair, it’s quite possible that this situation is even more complicated than you might realize, how you show up next matters. A lot.
You should have an assertive yet positive tone when conversing with both parties. Give each person the time needed to respond. Some of the people involved may be angry or upset, and you should give them space to express what they’re feeling. As the mediator, you must remain impartial to the concerned parties. You must be able to focus on the events and concerns rather than the individual personalities of the parties involved.
Take note if there is clashing or misleading information from the parties involved. Take your time to immerse yourself in the situation and the points they are both making. You shouldn’t rush into making a solution without fully understanding the situation. You can also look into other underlying issues not previously mentioned through your investigation.
At the end of your conversation, remember to ask what they propose as their needs. This will help in creating a solution that benefits both parties.
Tip #4: Determine solutions and establish common ground
Everyone has a common objective in mind: to resolve the situation. Establish a common ground by discussing and communicating with both parties to find solutions. While opposing views and opinions are likely to be present, remind everyone involved to recognize and respect personal differences. It’s essential to explore every alternative route to fully resolve the conflict and satisfy everyone’s needs.
Tensions can run high before reaching an amicable solution. It’s important to remember to keep a cool head when managing conflict. Amy Gallo, best-selling author of Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People), shares, “Our emotions are the driving force behind the beautiful friendships we forge at work. But those same feelings also play a role in how we react to conflict with difficult colleagues.”
Developing solutions can take a lot of time and energy. It can also take some time for all parties concerned to agree on one solution. However, don’t be discouraged if it seems like resolving the conflict is taking too long. It is better to explore every solution and ensure this conflict remains resolved after reaching an agreement.
Once both parties have agreed, the next step is determining the responsibilities and tasks each person has in resolving the conflict. As the leader, make sure that everyone involved is in full agreement with the proposed solution. Always make sure that everyone is on board with the plan to minimize the risk of creating more conflicts.
Tip #5: Evaluate if you need a follow-up
Just because the conflict is resolved doesn’t mean that your job as a mediator is done. You can schedule a follow-up meeting after some time to check how everyone is adapting to the proposed solution. Managing a conflict in the workplace also includes creating strategies and policies to ensure that the same problem does not pop up again and disrupt standard workflow.
If the conflict goes unresolved after many efforts, consider bringing in a third-party mediator to supervise. An outside facilitator can bring in more guidance. They can also be more emotionally detached from the situation, which can provide clearer insight into solutions. Other actions you can explore in managing conflict are disciplinary action, coaching sessions, and performance appraisals.
Upon evaluating, take time to look for the lesson everyone can learn from the conflict. Solving a workplace conflict can be a way for everyone to grow and understand each other better. Alice Meredith, culture strategist and labor relations consultant, shares:
Constructive conflicts in the workplace can be a powerful tool for fostering meaningful relationships between colleagues and strengthening team culture. This can be achieved by encouraging accountability and collaboration, both of which are key elements of successful teams.
Always explore other avenues when you’re feeling stuck during conflict management. If you want to know more about conflict management, our in-depth article can help you identify the different types, theories, and strategies you can use for complementary information.
Common causes of conflict in the workplace
Even though workplace conflicts can happen regularly, managing them as soon as they appear is essential. These problems rarely go away by themselves. When you cannot address these problems early, they often get worse. Promptly managing workplace conflict gives way to a more balanced and healthy work environment.
Poor communication is one of the most common reasons for conflict at work. Unfortunately, this can result from differences in communication skills or leadership style. In the workplace where a lot is going on at once, poor communication can lead to unclear job roles and responsibilities. One person may be doing tasks meant for another person due to a lack of team communication. It can also result in poor management and unequal work opportunities in the team.
Other factors that may cause workplace conflict are:
- Poor working environment
- Poor employee training
- Unfair treatment (such as bullying and harassment)
- General personality clashes between employees
- Unrealistic work expectations
- Unresolved past work conflicts
Often, several factors add to a single workplace conflict. If you wish to learn more about the different conflicts that can happen in the workplace, check out our in-depth article on this topic: What is Internal & External Conflict? (How Do They Impact Company Culture).
To Wrap Up
No one wins when there is conflict at work. In the workplace, where each employee has a unique personality, conflicts are bound to happen. However, they are less likely to happen again when addressed and resolved promptly. Conflict resolution is rooted in meeting the company’s values and goals while keeping employee welfare in mind.
A successful conflict management intervention is something you should always strive for as a leader. According to a 2015 study, several organizational interventions, such as mediation and individual and workgroup conflict training, can result in successful conflict responses. There are also many long-term benefits to managing workplace conflicts. Interpersonal conflict, according to the same study, can bring positive connection and strength to the people involved.
In conclusion, whether it’s two employees arguing about their office space or a team arguing about task delegation, it is your responsibility as a leader to step up and take charge. Keep in mind there are many ways to manage and resolve workplace conflict successfully. While most solutions vary in every individual case, we can still apply the same concepts and strategies above. Through these tips, you can ensure that there are no unresolved conflicts hindering your company’s long-term and overall success.
How can I manage teams more effectively and prevent workplace conflicts?
While you can’t avoid workplace conflict entirely, there are ways to mitigate the chances of conflicts from turning into bigger problems. When managing different work styles in teams, it’s essential to keep work relationships productive and healthy. As their leader, you should be proactive and observant. You can start by speaking with team members individually to catch up with their work life. Conversing with them also lets your team members know you are listening and available to help.
Open communication also lessens the risk of a work-related conflicts. By communicating with your team frequently, you can spot signs of conflict early and nip it in the bud. Encourage all team members to share their thoughts during meetings and ease collaboration when needed.
Knowing your employees’ work styles can also help mitigate workplace conflicts. Our article How to Determine Employee Work Styles can help you ascertain how your employees will work in a particular setting or team to avoid workplace conflicts.
Are teams in a work from anywhere setting more likely to have a workplace conflict?
A poor working environment can cause workplace conflict, and this can easily happen in-office or in a work-from-anywhere setting. Disagreements can happen digitally, instead of in a face-to-face encounter. Out of sight is clearly not out of mind, as workplace conflicts can happen even for remote teams.
While working from anywhere doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of a work problem happening, we can still apply the skills in managing conflicts in this situation. Leaders still use the same resolution, communication, and team-building skills to find solutions to online workplace conflicts. Instead of a face-to-face meeting, you can call concerned parties or host an online meeting with them separately. Being realistic about the situation while providing clear and practical solutions can go a long way in managing conflicts.
Your team’s collaboration in an online setting can start workplace conflicts when left unchecked. Our article Top Seven Methods for Bolstering Your Team’s Remote Collaboration can provide more insight into managing remote teams effectively.
FAQs Covered in this Article
Q: Why is conflict resolution important in the workplace?
A: Conflict resolution is essential for maintaining a healthy work environment, fostering collaboration, promoting employee satisfaction, and preventing negative impacts on productivity and morale.
Q: What are some common causes of conflict in the workplace?
A: Common causes of workplace conflict include miscommunication, differing values or opinions, personality clashes, competition for resources, and unmet expectations.
Q: How can HR managers identify conflicts in the workplace?
A: HR managers can identify conflicts by observing changes in employee behavior, monitoring communication patterns, listening to employee concerns, and conducting regular performance reviews and feedback sessions.
Q: What are some effective conflict resolution strategies for HR managers?
A: Effective conflict resolution strategies include active listening, establishing a safe and neutral environment, addressing the underlying issues, encouraging open communication, and finding mutually agreeable solutions.
Q: How can HR managers prevent conflicts from escalating?
A: HR managers can prevent conflicts from escalating by addressing issues promptly, setting clear expectations for behavior and communication, promoting a culture of respect and understanding, and providing training and resources for employees to develop conflict resolution skills.
Q: What role does communication play in managing and resolving conflicts in the workplace?
A: Effective communication is crucial for understanding different perspectives, expressing concerns and needs, and fostering an environment where employees feel heard and respected. Open and honest communication can help prevent misunderstandings and facilitate the resolution process.
Q: How can HR managers support a positive work culture that minimizes the occurrence of conflicts?
A: HR managers can promote a positive work culture by establishing clear expectations and policies, encouraging teamwork and collaboration, providing ongoing training and development opportunities, and fostering an environment of open communication and respect.
Q: When should HR managers involve external mediation or assistance in resolving workplace conflicts?
A: HR managers should consider involving external mediation or assistance when conflicts are severely impacting the work environment, the parties involved are unable to resolve the issue internally, or the conflict involves potential legal or compliance concerns.