It is not uncommon for conflicts and disagreements to occur in a work environment, such as when people spend significant time together. The workplace can be a place where conflicts can arise because of a variety of reasons, including personality clashes, poor communication, tight deadlines, or cultural differences.
Workplace conflict is becoming more prevalent. The number of people dealing with conflict often, very often, or all the time has increased to over a third (36%), compared to 29% in a 2008 study from The Myers-Briggs Company.
Since workplace conflicts have become so pervasive in U.S. corporate culture that the United States Congress Office of Compliance (OOC) has officially designated April as Workplace Conflict Awareness Month.
This month’s goal is to shed light on a common phenomenon in American workplace culture and resolve professional conflicts. After all, conflicts in the workplace increase stress levels and threaten organizational health. It is an ongoing job to prevent conflicts, but Workplace Conflict Awareness Month plays a vital role in highlighting the flaws in American workplace culture to improve work environments.
How to Reduce Workplace Conflict
1. Put formal systems in the place.
“Conflict in the workplace often arises when resentment, anger, and other negative emotions are left to fester,” Katie Shonk writes in HBR. “An accidental slight can lead into a full-blown dispute if the parties involved fail to address it explicitly.” This leads to inefficient and costly conflict management in the workplace.
“In recent years, organizations seeking to determine how to manage conflict at work increasingly have recognized the benefits of putting in place a formalized system for addressing conflict in the workplace,” Shonk adds.
Harvard Law School professors Frank E. A. Sander and Robert C. Bordone write in the Negotiation Briefings newsletter that organizations should engage in dispute system design — the process of identifying, designing, implementing, and evaluating the most effective way to resolve conflicts within an organization. “Those with basic experience with dispute-resolution processes, such as negotiation, mediation, and arbitration, should be able to help their organization establish a dispute-resolution process.”
Dispute system design (DSD) aims to support low-cost, less invasive methods of managing workplace conflict rather than moving on to more costly, riskier methods. An organization could encourage or require mediation before arbitration, for instance.
Further, Sander and Bordone suggest that employees should be able to access the dispute resolution process from a variety of points within the organization. For example, through their supervisor, an HR staff member, or some other leader — in order not to avoid the process due to distrust of one individual.
It can be difficult to create a dispute system from scratch. However, it will almost always be more efficient than using a case-by-case approach to managing workplace conflict.
2. Hire carefully.
Employers must screen candidates and conduct pre-employment screening to avoid employee relations issues. For instance, during the hiring process, a background investigation is conducted. Also, by asking open-ended relationship management interview questions, you can uncover a candidate’s conflict resolution skills.
Similarly to experience and education, demeanor and communication style play an important role in hiring. The reason? These characteristics can indicate if a job candidate is a “good fit” for the organization.
Before applying, it is also important to understand the company’s culture as well. Including your company culture in your job descriptions can achieve this. Employers can attract the right candidates by highlighting their unique traits and values in their job postings.
3. Be proactive.
Conflicts can be resolved best by preventing them before they occur. In other words, avoid potential conflicts by proactively identifying them and intervening before they arise. Taking proactive measures will almost always lessen the severity and length of a conflict.
What’s more, to minimize or eliminate workplace tensions, you should seek to understand them.
Imagine there is an inter-departmental conflict or tension. If departments don’t share goals or feel that management does not support them equally, they may not get along.
Additionally, the “silo effect” refers to the lack of effective communication among separate departments/teams within an organization. Low productivity, poor collaboration, and tension can result from this.
It has been estimated that employees spend 50% more time engaged in “collaborative” work today and that 75% of employees think collaboration and teamwork are important. How your team works together is crucial to addressing conflict in the workplace.
Here are some tips for promoting cooperation and success between departments:
- Reward cross-organizational collaboration
- Communicate transparently with all teams
- Promote networking within the company
- Establish central goals for everyone to strive for
It is crucial to centralize the organization’s goals to alleviate tension and disagreements between departments. A leader needs to understand the company’s goals, how those goals affect different teams, and communicate expectations to them.
4. Clarify what the source of conflict is.
By figuring out the cause, you’ll understand how the issue started. Plus, you’ll be able to get both parties to agree on what’s wrong. This means talking about both sides’ needs that aren’t being met.
Furthermore, you should guarantee mutual understanding. Take the time to learn as much as you can about both sides’ perspectives. Until all parties are confident that they understand the issue, continue asking questions.
For example, managers might want to protect their overworked team members (interest) by demanding more time to complete a project (position). It may be possible to keep the project on track by providing additional resources, such as associate employees who can assist with administrative tasks. As a result, you have satisfied the needs of everyone involved by satisfying interests rather than positions.
5. Find a safe and private place to talk.
The key to peacefully resolving conflicts is to create a safe environment for constructive conversation. This kind of setting lets everyone talk about the topic without feeling judged.
It’s best to have a conversation in a safe, private place before resolving any issues. Also, choose a location away from either party’s office or a nearby location. And always allow each party enough time to express their viewpoints.
Bonus tip: You can make this easier by using a tool like Calendar.
By checking your connected calendars, you can schedule a meeting. You can add or remove meeting times, as well as change the length of the meetings. It is also possible to add a physical address, phone number, or Zoom link for the meeting location.
As soon as you’ve entered your preferences, attendees will receive an email with your availability. Calendar puts the meeting on your calendar and sends an invitation to all meeting attendees when they click on a time.
6. Establish ground rules.
Maintaining a productive conversation begins with establishing ground rules. But what exactly are the ground rules? Here are some examples:
- Being respectful of each other and not interrupting each other while they speak.
- Keeping a calm attitude and not raising your voice.
- Unless the issue has been resolved, limit the conversation to 30 minutes.
Keeping a positive and assertive attitude throughout the meeting will encourage both parties to communicate openly and honestly. Most importantly, this will enable you to figure out what caused the conflict and how to resolve it.
7. Keep WIIFM in mind.
The WIIFM acronym stands for “What’s in it for me?” When faced with conflict among employees, this is crucial for a leader to remember. Why? Because employees tend to be most concerned with WIIFM.
The reason is that In a given situation, they want to know how it affects them personally. Similarly, this plays a key role in motivating them.
When employees understand company benefits, conflict is less likely to occur in the workplace. Preparedness will also make resolving conflicts easier. To help resolve conflicts among your employees, you must understand what motivates them and what they can gain from a situation.
8. Normalize productive conflict.
“Productive conflict is a type of healthy confrontation,” Shonna Waters, Ph.D. over at BetterUp. “Team members express their different opinions to reach a common solution. It’s an important part of healthy communication.”
Everyone on the team is heard and respected, no matter how they disagree. Having a non-judgmental environment facilitates the exchange of ideas.
Conflicts of this type increase productivity — while destructive conflicts hamper it, Dr. Waters adds. An exchange of ideas can be sparked by embracing healthy conflict.
“It’s important to normalize team conflict because it’s natural,” she states. “Disputes are bound to happen in the workplace.”
Remember, there is no practical way to eliminate conflict at work. In addition, it is not conducive to the growth of an organization.
It is healthy for a team to experience conflict during its development process. Having the right skills to deal with differences is crucial to team success. And to facilitate constructive conflict, employees should take a healthy approach to conflict resolution.
9. Find a mutually agreeable solution.
Discuss a possible solution once you’ve discussed the conflict. Direct the conversation toward a solution instead of getting back to the issue. By collaborating with all parties, you can create a solution-seeking environment.
When people who disagree are involved in decision-making, they feel valued. In addition, this strengthens the employer-employee relationship.
It’s then time to agree on a solution. Decide what the next steps are and what everyone is happy with. Communicate the solution clearly to everyone – maybe one-by-one. A team’s solution should provide guidelines and resources for future conflict resolution.
And, one more thing. Ensure you properly execute your resolution once you reach it. As a result, both parties can develop a positive work relationship that fosters appreciation and understanding.
10. Get outside help.
Some solutions aren’t feasible, or even close, to being acceptable to everyone. To resolve conflicts effectively, it’s important to know when to seek outside assistance. HR professionals, internal peer mediators, or external facilitators can act as mediators or facilitators in this situation. As a rule of thumb, direct supervisors should not be the ones to make the decision.
Outside help can be sought in the following situations:
- When someone abuses or bullies others
- Legal issues
- Conflicts that recur
- Toxic work environments
- Conflicts that can’t be handled by human resources
And remember, it never hurts to seek professional counseling in your area. Sometimes a person just needs to gripe about a situation that they may not feel they can say to friends or family. Sometimes you just need to learn what triggers you will stay away from at work or need some suggestions on how to avoid irritating coworkers. In this case — find a professional.
A year-round commitment is required for conflict prevention.
Even though Conflict Awareness Month is only 30 days long, employers can proactively manage workplace violence year-round with the right preparedness program and technology.
What is conflict in the workplace?
When team members disagree at work, conflict occurs. It is possible to have differing opinions due to different personalities, styles of work, approaches to the work itself, and more. It is, unfortunately, common for teams to come into conflict.
Conflict is possible in any setting, including Zoom meetings. Body language and words might be used to convey it. Other ways of expressing disagreement are by defying others’ opinions or their work. When active listening skills are lacking, disrespect is implied, and animosity can result.
What are the causes of office conflict?
It’s not just one thing that causes conflicts at work. After all, we’re all human. Because we each show up to work as ourselves, conflict is inevitable. It should be noted, though, that most workplaces have similar problems.
Workplace conflict has six common causes:
- Disputes over how to accomplish tasks.
- Leadership and management challenges.
- Roles and expectations are not communicated.
- Tensions or unhealthy competition among coworkers due to office politics.
- Workplace discrimination or hostile working conditions.
- Team members’ personal experiences impact their mood and performance at work.
Are there different types of workplace conflicts?
As conflicts come in many shapes and sizes, it is impossible to categorize them as all the same. Some types of conflict are easy to resolve, and others that are more difficult.
With that said, work conflicts can be classified into four types:
Conflicts in workstyles
Our differences can sometimes cause conflict among workers. Your coworker might prefer a trial-and-error approach to their work, while you prefer to be more organized. Team members can have trouble understanding each other’s approaches to the same work due to different working styles.
The leadership approach to conflict
There may be leadership styles in your workplace that aren’t aligned with your own. When team leaders fail to address conflict, their teams will suffer. Conflicts may worsen if managers have different approaches to conflict resolution.
Conflict of personalities
The most common type of conflict is a personality conflict. Character traits, values, interests, hobbies, and hobbies may be the source of disagreements and arguments. Not everyone we meet will be our best friend. However, when we dislike each other’s different personalities, it can make working together difficult.
Disputes between departments
There is a possibility that you work in the marketing department, but you also interact with the field and sales teams frequently. As an example, it has been difficult to support the field with marketing requests recently, which has resulted in late nights at work.
As the workload increases, tensions escalate between departments. When there is no clear communication between departments, handling conflicts can be challenging. It may result in pent-up frustrations or minor disagreements that escalate.
How can you identify workplace conflicts?
Some team members can speak their minds without fear, but others are more reserved. If you know what to look for, you can spot conflict early on.
- Productivity and collaboration have declined.
- Problems with quality.
- A high turnover rate.
- Abnormally high absenteeism.
- Change in behavior of coworkers when others are present.
- Meetings have gone off the rails.
- Stress and anxiety are on the rise.
- Team members bring up complaints either directly or indirectly.
What can you do to prevent conflict in the workplace?
At times, stepping into conflict is the worst way to handle it. In fact, some conflict fosters more innovation, creativity, and broadened viewpoints for your team than shutting it down. Embracing constructive conflict boosts productivity and teaches people new skills.
Conflict should not cause people to feel unsafe and or to hesitate to speak up. Team members shouldn’t feel restricted in their participation. When a team member’s voice is restricted, toxic conflict occurs. We need to avoid and resolve conflicts like this.
You can’t always avoid toxic conflict, but you can reduce its frequency. Here’s how to keep your office conflict-free:
- Establish the values and goals of your business.
- Create a work environment that allows team members to feel safe and comfortable.
- Demonstrate the behavior you desire by leading by example.
- You should hold monthly seminars (or webinars) on how to deal with bullying and gaslighting.
Image Credit: Yan Krukau; Pexels; Thank you!