Most people can handle just about any amount and type of work that comes their way. It’s not the work that puts them over the edge – it’s a conflict with a coworker or coworkers.
Conflict in the workplace, or anywhere, is inevitable. Conflict is part of being human. Some people are more comfortable with it than others, and some people tend to be “conflict carriers”.
Ultimately, it’s part of a manager’s job to deal with workplace conflict head-on.
Ignoring it will only make matters worse, and will eventually impact team productivity, results, employee satisfaction, and the manager’s reputation.
Here are some ways to manage workplace conflict, so that little problems don’t fester into BIG problems:
Where do you begin?
Conflicts in the workplace can range from very petty annoyances that don’t necessarily affect your work to a full-scale confrontation that could affect an entire department or workplace if you’re interning or working for a small employer. Conflict can make any job very stressful so it’s important to find ways to handle it so that both parties experience a win-win situation.
Handling conflict is a skill that anyone can develop just by taking the time to ask some key questions and also by not making assumptions about what other people might be thinking or feeling.
There are many opportunities for us to learn how to handle conflict better which oftentimes may consist of trial and error and finding a technique that works for you and your style of interacting with people.
Is conflict unavoidable?
It is unrealistic to expect that you will never have to manage workplace conflict in the workplace. With so many types of different personalities and different ways of seeing things, conflict is usually a given so it’s best to learn how to handle it early on and to the best of your ability.
Taking an aggressive approach or being defensive are usually two ways that will definitely not get you where you want to go. First off, you will want to take a step back to see if you are able to get an objective view of what really is going on.
Understanding both sides of any issue is a great beginning of handling conflict in a constructive way. Admitting that you are wrong when appropriate can also move you forward in creating positive relationships in the future.
Make the ability to collaborate an expectation
Establishing expectations starts with the hiring process. Are you looking to hire lone wolves, or employees that can collaborate with others? If it’s the latter, then you need to ask questions that uncover how well the candidate gets along with his/her current co-workers.
Look for red flag answers like, “Well, I have very high standards, and sometimes get frustrated with others if they don’t meet those standards.” Translation: “I thought my co-workers were idiots, and we fought like cats and dogs.”
Make collaboration skills a job expectation for all employees, reward it, and make it a condition for advancement.
Recognise the difference between healthy and destructive conflict
Healthy conflict is making it okay to disagree, debate the issue, challenge the process, and speak up.
Destructive conflict is when it gets personal, gets in the way of working effectively, and has a negative impact on productivity, innovation, and ultimately, results.
Don’t ignore it
Look for little signs that can turn into big problems. Vanessa L Voyles, a HR manager at Buy Essay Club, says “a manager needs to be having regular one-on-one meetings with all direct reports, as well as regular team meetings. These are the opportunities to ask questions, listen, and watch for subtle clues of unhealthy conflict.
Most employees won’t want to tattle on their co-workers or be seen as a complainer, but you might pick up that they are going out of their way to work with another employee. Point out your observation, and ask why”.
Be a role model with your peers
Many managers don’t understand the connection between how well they work with and talk about their fellow managers, and how well their own employees work together. Employees learn more from watching a manager’s behaviours than they do from what the manager says.
In this case, when handling conflict in the workplace, one of the first things you will want to do is see if you can achieve it via open communication with the person or persons you are having a conflict with. Oftentimes conflict occurs because of a misunderstanding and making assumptions as to why something is happening without any input from the other side.
Communicating honestly with the other person may be all you need to come to an agreement and nip the problem in the beginning before it has time to grow and fester.
In some cases approaching someone that you are having a problem with is very difficult or impossible and in that case you will probably want to make an appointment to speak with your supervisor to ask their suggestions on ways you can deal with the problem yourself.
Learn a conflict resolution methodology
Most people shy away from conflict because it’s often messy and painful. If you’re not good at something, or you don’t like it, you’ll most likely avoid it.
However, if you learn and practice a consistent approach, you get good at it, and your world gets better as a result of dealing with it, then you’ll be more likely to seek out opportunities to deal with conflict.
I’d recommend taking a course in conflict management, or reading a good book, like Crucial Conversations. A good course or book will give you a framework and set of tools, which gives you the confidence to confront conflict in a constructive, deliberate way. You’ll also be able to coach employees on how to handle their own conflicts.
There are lots of different conflict resolution models, but most of them have the following five elements:
- Stay calm and deal with the emotions first
- State what is bothering you in a respectful and specific way
- Listen to the other person’s perspective for complete understanding
- Problem solving – look for root causes and win-win solutions
- Agree on actions to be taken, and making mutual commitments
Any new skill takes time and practice before we get comfortable with it. The important thing is to have the right intention, which is to resolve the conflict, not to punish the other person.
Help your employees with their conflicts
Once you’ve learned how to handle your own conflicts, you can help your employees deal with their conflicts. There are two ways to do this: the first method is to teach them a methodology (or have them learn the same way you did), so that they can handle it on their own.
In fact, some managers and experts say this is the only approach a manager should take – that is, they should never get involved in a conflict between two of their employees. While I can see the value of encouraging employees to handle their own conflicts without having to “run to Dad or Mom,” I still think there are times when a manager needs to step in.
Establish a set of policies to help handle conflict in the workplace
Most employers have conflict resolution policies in place to manage workplace conflict. Oftentimes there are a series of steps that an employer will recommend that an employee take when dealing with problems they are encountering in the workplace.
Since employee conflict can affect so much more than what’s going on just between two people, employers want to ensure that any problems between employees or within any one specific department are dealt with quickly and in a way where both parties feel accepted and heard.
If you have failed to manage workplace conflict by speaking directly to the other person or your supervisor, employers usually have a chain of command of where you can go next to help you solve the problem.
It’s important to follow company rules and utilise all channels the company has set in place to show the employer your dedication in solving the problem and moving on to do your part in making a more harmonious workplace.
It’s important that the manager doesn’t get caught in the middle by having individual conversations with each employee and trying to mediate. Instead, the manager should sit down with both employees and coach the employees through the conflict resolution process.
Learn to proactively eliminate destructive conflict and manage workplace conflict by dealing with it before it gets out of control so that everyone will be able to focus on their work, without getting caught up in unproductive and stressful workplace drama.
About the author
Nicholas H. Parker is a business coach and marketing manager with a huge experience. He writes articles at buy essay service to share his knowledge with others. He is highly interested in the web design sphere.