There are several ways to manage interpersonal conflicts at work. Conflict resolution skills can help you to build good work relationships and create a positive work environment.
Is it possible to avoid team conflicts? You can’t avoid every conflict at work, but as a manager, you can resolve workplace conflicts in the most effective way.
A clash of interests is inevitable if people communicate with one another for a long time. Generally, conflicts at work are caused by professional disagreements, misperceptions or irritating behaviours.
If you learn how to resolve conflicts at work quickly and effectively, tension between team members will decrease, which will improve team communication and team performance.
However, conflicts are not always destructive. For example, in the article Too Much Team Harmony Can Kill Creativity by Darko Lovric and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic it is said that productive conflict stimulates team creativity.
For instance, if your worker wants to improve your writing as a web designer, he needs the corresponding course to work on, but not just refuse from any development from you. Teams with reduced level of harmony are more willing to search for unusual solutions, while close-knit teams are less motivated and productive.
However, when conflicts make employees feel uncomfortable and become too frequent, it can be very harmful to the entire team. If you have a similar situation in your team, it’s time to improve it. As a manager, you should also help to resolve employee conflicts.
The nature of conflicts at work
A conflict is a disagreement over something between two or more parties, both people and groups. Opponents try to defend their points of view and achieve a certain goal.
Different views and different assessments of certain events or solutions quite often result in a dispute at work. If an incident occurs and the current controversial situation affects one of the conflicting parties, a dispute turns into a conflict.
Objective contradictions are the most common causes of conflicts. However, sometimes a wrong word or a mistaken statement is enough.
The conditional formula of any conflict is as follows:
dispute + incident = conflict
Other common causes of team conflicts are social and economic, professional, political and moral issues. All of them facilitate the occurrence of different disagreements. Psychophysical and biological characteristics of people are also very important.
Ways to manage interpersonal conflicts at work
There are two approaches to conflict management: structural and interpersonal. Each of them includes some techniques that we are going to discuss in more detail.
Structural approaches to conflict resolution
Clear job responsibilities
This is one of the simplest and most effective ways of conflict resolution at work and conflict prevention as well. It’s very important to clarify roles in the workplace. Manager should provide each employee with a detailed description of his professional duties and develop a document that clarifies responsibilities and rights of each team member in accordance with his position.
Hierarchical organisational structure regulates the interaction of employees, decision-making process and information flows within the company.
For example, if some team members have disagreements over a particular issue, they can talk about the conflict with the manager. The manager will listen to each of them and take responsibility for the final decision.
Setting common goals
Setting clear common goals, you can easily rally your team around the project. In this case, their energy will be focused on reaching the shared goal.
Team based compensation system
A fair reward for work has a positive effect on employee performance and helps to avoid destructive conflicts in the future. But it’s important that the compensation system encourages cooperation rather than individual performance.
Interpersonal approaches to conflict resolution
This technique is widely used to resolve conflicts both in personal and professional relationships, since it meets all the rules of business communication. If the parties are ready to resolve conflict peacefully by negotiating, they can find a compromise. This is even more possible under the following conditions:
1. The opponents present convincing arguments.
2. The opponents have equal job positions.
3. Satisfaction of the requirements of the opponents is possible if certain conditions change.
A compromise may be a temporary solution that will be changed in the future.
This technique may be used if the nature of the conflict does not relate directly to the work processes and responsibilities of employees. Instead of finding a solution to the problem, the opponents avoid it when interacting.
Sometimes one party to a conflict joins the other one and starts negotiating to provide a temporary relief from conflict and restore calm in the team. Moreover, no one needs to sacrifice their interests. On the contrary, in a more stable environment, you can continue to protect your interest, and your opponent meets you halfway as a token of mutual respect.
Sometimes this is the only way when compromising is not an option.
The manager can suppress employees and make the final decision alone. However, this technique has more disadvantages than advantages, since it results in poor creativity, lack of initiative and innovations.
The role of the manager in resolving workplace conflicts
In the article How To Successfully Manage Workplace Conflict Rick Gibbs recommends to act quickly when conflict arises before it spreads through the workplace.
If the manager responds quickly to the conflict, he will manage to maintain a positive atmosphere in the workplace and manage interpersonal conflicts at work. Here are 4 steps to take when managing difficult conversations with employees:
Prepare thoroughly for the conversation
Choose a neutral place that would be good for all participants, for example, a conference room. Outline the basic principles of the conversation: opponents should share their points of view and listen to one another. Make it clear for everyone that the purpose of the meeting is not to find guilty, but to come to an agreement.
Clarify the situation
Gather all the information but resist judgement. Instead, repeat briefly everyone’s point of view and make sure that you understand the cause of the conflict clearly.
This is the most difficult part of the conversation, because all the conflicting parties may start yelling and swearing and blaming one another. As a manager, you should listen to everyone and assess their arguments. Be objective and receptive to all thoughts or concerns.
Let them describe the problem as they see it. One of the key rules for resolving conflicts is your help to the opponents. Give them the opportunity to share their opinions in a neutral tone so that they feel they can trust you.
For example, if Olivia believes that Noah will make the same mistake as he did before, figure out how justified this fear is. If Noah is sure that Olivia is envious or doubtful about his professional competence, ask him what these thoughts are based on.
When they both explain their points of view and fears, it will be much easier to resolve the conflict. You will get to the primary cause of the conflict.
Find the best solution
Before making the final decision, analyse all the complaints and arguments of the opponents to help them find mutual understanding. For example, if Noah learnt from his mistakes, he is very likely to avoid them in the future and make the right decision. Then Olivia should be more open-minded and give him a chance.
If Olivia’s arguments are based not only on negative experience in the past, perhaps you should assign the task to someone else.
Whatever decision you make, it should not be offensive for employees or make them feel like they’ve wasted their time.
Just take some measures to prevent such situations in the future. Keep an eye on the ball and mediate when necessary.
Strategies for conflict management
If you follow three main strategies for conflict management and improve team communication, you will avoid many conflicts and problems in the workplace. They are:
Try to understand your opponent’s point of view
If you disagree with your colleagues, try to understand them and look at the problem from different perspectives. It is quite common that conflicts arise not because of the current situation at work, but as a consequence of some problem, for example, mutual misunderstanding.
If you are a manager, you have probably found yourself in a typical conflict situation when two employees want to get a day off on the same day. Make sure that both employees understand why each of them wants this particular date. Then it will be easier for them to understand each other. If you have to make the final decision, reward the ‘losing party’ with an extra day off.
It can be difficult to control your emotions when arguing. When someone annoys or upsets you, being friendly is the last thing you want to do. However, try to stay calm and keep your emotions under control.
If you are on the edge, take a pause or suggest rescheduling the meeting. When emotions subside and you can look at the conflict objectively, the best solution will arise.
Speak a common language to your opponents
If you are trying to resolve a conflict and find a compromise with someone, make sure that you understand each other clearly. Coming to an agreement is possible only if both parties listen and hear each other.
Conflict resolution skills
Here are some soft skills that will help you to handle any interpersonal conflict:
The ability to emotionally understand what other people feel helps to understand your opponent as well. If you speak to your employees and listen to them, you will be able to understand their motivation and behaviours after a while. Probably, you will be able to accept someone else’s point of view, even if it differs from your own one.
Many studies proved the importance of collaboration. According to Staffbe, an IT outstaffing company, and Teamstage, a comfortable work environment and employee happiness scale up team productivity by 20%.
The ability to cooperate helps to avoid many conflict situations. Growing teamwork skills, you will improve relationships with your colleagues and motivation to achieve common goals.
Openness and self-awareness
When manage interpersonal conflicts at work, it is important that all the conflicting parties be honest. The details and the cause of the conflict must correspond to reality. Open communication creates conditions for resolving team conflicts as soon as possible.
To improve awareness, try to analyse your actions that may affect other people, their behaviours and statements. Understanding the habits and values of your employees will help you avoid interpersonal conflicts.
Good communication makes the relationship between employees trusting and open, causes positive emotions, and brings the team together.
This ability is crucial for building strong relationships between the manager and the team. For example, if you want to hire dedicated development teams to work on new projects, your communication skills will help to establish mutual understanding faster and set clear tasks. This skill helps to compromise, attract people, connect with them and be a good leader.
Interpersonal conflicts are everywhere including the workplace. Even if your team is super friendly, sooner or later you will have to deal with disagreements and conflicts and manage interpersonal conflicts at work.
The ability to resolve conflict at an early stage helps to build and maintain good relationships with colleagues and improve your workplace environment. To avoid disagreements in the future, it is necessary to find the primary cause and choose the best way to handle them.
About the Author
Christine Pickell today assists the companies to describe the tasks for the outstaffing process start with the cooperation of Staffbe. He trained her writing skills all the time after she graduated from the California University of Management & Sciences.
It was her hobby earlier, but thanks to her scrupulous work and constant development of the pencraft now she is a professional writer helping the companies in her favorite business.