Workplace conflict is something you can rarely get out of. We all have at least one or two unpleasant office experiences with a co-worker we still remember and use as an example whenever we discuss the topic of office conflicts. Unfortunately, when you have a room full of team members of various backgrounds, different workstyles, skill levels and personalities, it can be difficult to avoid clashes.
The good thing is that conflicts can be managed and resolved. The following article will examine popular causes of workplace conflict, as well as provide solutions that will help managers and team leaders manage workplace conflict correctly.
What are Some Causes of Workplace Conflict?
A workplace conflict can occur due to many reasons. Some of those include:
- Differences in personalities
- Irritating workplace behaviors
- Unclarified roles and responsibilities
- Unmet needs
- Competing job duties
- Poor implementation of a job description
- Poor communication and comments taken out of context
- Differences over methods and styles of working
- Cultural differences
- Mismanagement / poor leadership
- Systemic organizational changes
- Unfair treatment / lack of equal opportunities
- Harassment or bullying
- Increase in workload
- Unrealistic expectations
- Supervisors or team leaders who can’t stop micromanaging everything
- Business values
- Lack of training or career progression
The list can go on and on. There are so many causes that can trigger a workplace clash. That’s why it’s so important to be ready to handle it. One day things might be great at the office but on the following day you might witness a highly unpleasant yelling between two co-workers over things you didn’t even notice existed.
It’s also important to understand that conflict can be expressed in numerous ways. It can take the form of an insult, noncooperation, anger, bullying, rage, complete ignorance and so on. The negative effects of workplace conflict can include decreased productivity, work disruptions, absenteeism, high turnover rates, termination of contracts, project failure, company reputation damage and so on. Most importantly, workplace conflicts cause emotional stress, anxiety and mental hardships.
Having all that in mind, is there a right way to manage workplace conflicts? Yes, there is. You have to remember one thing, though – your immediate response to conflict situations is absolutely essential. If you leave it in the hands of fate, you will get nowhere and your business will certainly suffer negative consequences.
(Photo by @yanalya at freepik.com)
How to Manage Workplace Conflict?
- Establish the Root Cause of the Conflict
Manage workplace conflict by first determining what started the problem. Once you understand the root cause of someone’s unhappiness or dissatisfaction, you can determine what’s going to be the potential negative impact on the work, relationships, business goals and decide what to do about it.
For example, an individual in your team may seem to be struggling with workload or feel frustration towards another team member who is seemingly having less work to do. In that case, the root of the problem is organizational. You have to think of ways to restructure the way you’re assigning tasks or provide additional incentives, such as bonuses and promotions.
In addition, it’s also important to look at the past. Were those two team members in any type of conflict before? Is their relationship problematic? If it’s just a single occurrence, then you might be able to quickly resolve it and get everyone back on track.
- Let Individual Express Their Own Point of View and Feelings
This is a pretty straightforward way to manage workplace conflict. Before you move on to the actual problem-solving step, you have to hear both sides of the story.
Most importantly, you have to also understand how someone feels – angry, hurt, anxious, stressed, embarrassed, etc. These feelings and emotions should be expressed and acknowledged. Otherwise, this individual might feel like you don’t care about their emotional health and leave the company.
- FInd Common Areas of Agreement
It can’t all be about disagreements, right? Something caused a problem between members of your team and in most cases, the cause goes beyond personal disliking or disagreements over the temperature of the heater.
Try to find what both sides agree on, before moving on to the disagreement and problem-solving part. Do both sides agree and acknowledge that there’s a problem? Do both sides agree that a change should be made in order to improve the situation? Once you’ve come up with a solution, ask if both sides agree on the procedure that will follow? Are both parties ready to sacrifice a little in order to preserve a positive working environment?
(Photo by @yanalya at freepik.com)
- Talk Face-to-Face if Possible
Dealing with conflict in person is preferable over dealing with conflict over Zoom, Slack or Skype. It can be tricky, however personal interaction is an important component in any conflict resolution technique. If you’re a manager or team leader who has to manage workplace conflict, call the parties involved at your office and talk about the problem. Good old fashioned in-person meeting is what you should definitely do. You can even invite an impartial third party to help with dialogue and problem resolution.
Face-to-face interaction guarantees visual emotional cues. Those include body language, eye-to-eye contact, face emotions, etc. Unfortunately, these days working from home became the new norm. Managing teams remotely is already difficult as it is. Now, imagine if you have to resolve a conflict over Zoom or Slack?
If you rely on online communication to resolve an issue between team members, be ready for outcomes such as misinterpreted emails or messages, lack of any emotional cues and parties ignoring messages.
- Focus on Specific Behavior, Not Personality
Although personality sometimes plays a huge role in any workplace conflict, you must not focus entirely on individual traits and character. To manage workplace conflict successfully, you have to understand that focusing on personality won’t lead you anywhere. It’s not a good conflict resolution model and it won’t provide any actionable steps to either party.
Instead, focus on specific work behavior. Are there any concrete examples of problematic behavior? Without examples of behavior, one can quickly assume that an individual is purposefully behaving that way, which is often not the case.
When you’re conducting a dialogue with team members regarding a conflict, ask questions and be patient. Try to unearth what were the reasons why an individual behaved like they did. What was the root cause of their behavior? Don’t conclude they are simply “arrogant,” “condescending,” or “too emotional.” Something triggered this and it’s your job to find out what.
- Create a Space for Open Communication and Have Open Channels
Having an open-door policy, proper channels for communication and well-established company culture will definitely help you manage workplace conflicts. Even better, avoid them. All of the above-mentioned techniques won’t work if you don’t communicate with your team or foster a safe working environment where everyone can share what’s bothering them.
Think about obtaining peer feedback or bottom-up feedback (employee to manager feedback). This will certainly help with building an aligned and cohesive team. Your ultimate goal is to make sure employees feel confident and empowered to raise issues to their managers or team leaders. You don’t want an individual to suffer in silence. Otherwise, one day things will explode and you won’t know what hit you.
Schedule regular team meetings, feedback sessions or even seminars, related to company culture and values. This way, any problematic dynamics will be addressed before they get in the way of completing the business objective. If you’re a manager or team leader you probably won’t have a lot of time to spend with your team or might have to travel a lot. Still, it’s important to be consistent when it comes to team meetings and let your team know that they can come to your office or call you whenever a problematic situation arises.
(Photo by @freepik at freepik.com)
Organizational culture, open communication and regular feedback sessions are just a few of the strategies managers can use to manage workplace conflict. Remember, in most cases employees are often unable to resolve the issues among themselves. That’s why you should always step in and provide support when needed.
Let’s try to list one last time the most important steps a manager should take in order to resolve a workplace conflict:
- Do not ignore conflict and do not avoid taking necessary steps to prevent it.
- Listen and understand the opinions and emotions of the employees in conflict.
- Ensure that all employees and not just managers, supervisors or team leaders are accountable for resolving the conflict.
- Create clear and consistent communication channels.
- Make sure every team member feels empowered to speak up their mind.
- Keep the conversation goal-oriented and focus on the root of the problem.
- Create new company policies, if necessary, that will prevent conflicts in the future.
- Keep in mind that each conflict is different and depending on the circumstances of the conflict, your resolving tactics might vary.