Conflict appears to be inescapable in the workplace. About 85 percent of US workers have experienced some form of conflict. It's a major issue that needs to be addressed by management.
Unresolved conflict can lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, greater employee turnover, and a variety of other negative outcomes. However, most managers are fearful of managing workplace conflict and seek to avoid it.
But a dispute seldom resolves itself.
To be a manager, you must be capable of handling conflict by recognizing it, identifying its root cause, and bringing it to a timely resolution.
Below we discuss strategies to manage conflict in the workplace, but first, let’s take a quick look at some types of workplace conflicts.
Conflict Types and their Underlying Reasons
A common example is the frequent conflicts that arise over the distribution of raises and bonuses. One worker may believe they are entitled to a larger slice of the pie. Do you know if they may be correct? It is up to management to make that decision. Three areas to consider when seeking the underlying reasons for the dispute are:
- Inter-dependence. Disputes happen when one employee's success is dependent on the performance/presence of another.
- Unfortunately, workplace discrimination does happen. You should know that a conflict does not always result from religion or racial differences.
Discrimination can occur based on various factors, including background, way of life, upbringing, and much more. However, for managers, the precise definition is less important than the observed negative effects.
- Creative Ideas That Oppose Each Other. It is normal for one person to hold a different point of view from the other. A dispute can emerge when these ideas collide.
Workplace Conflict Resolution Strategies
What steps should you take as a business owner to manage conflict? Let's now see some strategies for managing and resolving workplace conflict.
1. Clarify the Issue Causing the Workplace Conflict
Clarifying the issue over which there is continuing disagreement is the first approach to resolving it. Dig deeper to identify the reason for the conflict and how the problem arose in the first place. Collect as much information as feasible about each side's viewpoint.
Your next step is to get both sides to agree on the nature of the dispute. To do that you must first discuss the needs that are not being fulfilled on both sides of the disagreement. You must guarantee that there is a mutual understanding.
2. Establish a Private and Safe Place to Talk
A peaceful problem-solving strategy begins with a fruitful discussion and a fruitful discussion begins with creating a safe environment where all parties feel comfortable discussing their differences and concerns – positive or negative – with you and each other.
So, before attempting to resolve any problem, establish a safe and private location to discuss it. Do not select either party's office or a location close to it. And make sure that every party has adequate time to express their thoughts on the subject.
3. Avoid Disagreeing Through an Email
Emails are also indestructible. You can't undo what you've done. Once you're fired up, you can easily write something that you will later regret.
Teach your staff members that if they have something unpleasant to say to anyone, they need to see them in person, call them, or ask if they are available to video chat. It will be a far more fruitful communication experience.
Note-taking is okay, but the parties should just not depend on what they've written to end the dispute. The dispute isn’t settled until both parties agree it’s settled; initially, it’s just stating positions and venting grievances.
4. Listen to Both Parties
Give each party a chance to express their thoughts and perceptions about the issue at hand.
Allow them equal time to communicate their opinions and worries without favoring one over the other. When in the meeting, adopt a positive and proactive demeanor. Set ground rules if needed.
Going down this path will motivate both parties to express themselves openly and honestly, as well as understand the roots of the problem and find solutions.
5. Observe Things from Other People's Perspective
This may seem self-evident, but it needs repeating: Other person's viewpoints are just as valid to them as yours are to you.
Effectively managing workplace conflict requires recognizing another’s point of view and comprehending what makes that point of view so compelling to the person when contrasted to your point of view.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Steven R. Covey
Use the following reflection questions to teach your staff to put themselves in the shoes of others and gain an understanding of how the other person interprets the situation:
- When was the last time somebody accused me of something, and I was unable to defend myself? How did I feel as a result of that?
- Is this individual already remorseful for what happened?
- How would they react if I added my two cents?
- Did this person realize what they were doing was wrong?
Hanlon’s razor is a good rule to introduce a different way of looking at the situation: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
In other words, some bad things happen not because of bad intentions, but because people have not thought things through properly.
Help employees recognize how the other person sees the situation. The questions above can prevent rash decisions and avoid unnecessary disputes.
6. Investigate the Matter
After listening to both sides' issues, take your time to investigate the matter. Don't make any assumptions or a final decision based on what you have initially.
Investigate further to learn more about the events, issues, involved parties, and how individuals feel. Engage in a personal and self-assured conversation with those involved. Listen carefully to be certain you understand their points of view. Also, look for any underlying dispute sources that may not be obvious or recognizable at first.
One of the best ways to make sure each party sees that you understand their point of view is by summing up and repeating their statements back to them.
7. Establish a Way to Meet the Common Goals
When managing dispute procedures, make each party a part of the solution. Explore options for resolving the situation and discuss them until all have a common goal in mind.
Sit down with both parties and start discussing the paths you can take to meet the common goal of resolving the matter at hand and the pros and cons of each approach.
Listen, communicate, and strategize together until all options have been exhausted and understood.
8. Determine the Best Solution and each Party’s Role
Focus on the why and set the stage by stressing that all parties all have the same goal: meeting the company's objectives and making it successful.
In settling on a final resolution, make sure that the solution is consistent with the nature and role of each party. For example, high interaction solutions may not work if the employee’s personality is not outgoing. Also, be sure job requirements will not make the solution problematic.
9. Examine How Things Are Moving and Devise Future Prevention Strategies
Clear communication should be the norm in business. Developing a culture of open, honest, and constructive communications helps staff to work together to achieve the organization’s goals.
After resolving the conflict, watch and see if the solution is working. If the problem seems to be reemerging, immediately engage the two parties and repeat your resolution process.
The sooner you make a mid-course correction, the better.
Determine future prevention strategies as well. Introspection is your tool, use it. Ask what you can learn from the dispute and your handling of it. If you think you should have done better, use this as a learning opportunity.
Taking a course in conflict management is one idea. This will allow you to understand what to do if the issue arises again.
Use These Tips to Manage Conflict in the Workplace
As a manager, you must not let your fear prevent you from resolving a conflict. Keep in mind that every conflict provides an opportunity for learning and growth for all the parties involved.
We urge you to use each conflict to improve your organization and establish a good working environment for your employees.