handling workplace conflict as an organisation and an individual

03/11/2020

Workplace conflict is impossible to avoid, especially given the multitude of opinions, ideologies, and diversity that exist. If left undealt with, these conflicts can lead to an unpleasant or toxic office environment and disrupt a workplace's overall productivity and momentum. As a manager or HR professional, it is vital to prepare ourselves to deal with workplace conflict. By being prepared, we can resolve disputes swiftly and prevent even deeper problems from arising within the workplace, like absenteeism.

Common causes of workplace conflict

To effectively manage conflict in the workplace, you need to understand the common causes and reasons behind them. From there, we can tackle issues in their early stages or find the best course of action after they arise. Some common causes of workplace conflict are:

1. Differing work styles between employees

Every individual has a unique working style in the way they approach and complete assigned tasks. Understanding each individual's work style is critical to their own and overall team's performance. Some employees may prefer to work independently without any external inputs, whereas others may value the aspect of collaboration in teamwork. By respecting the differences in working style, you can better train employees and form teams who complement each other. 

2. Disagreements or changes in leadership 

Leadership conflict is common, especially after a new leader is promoted or joins the team. Management changes can become an opportunity for other team members to feel out of the loop. The new leader must exercise strong collaboration between departments and teams in the company to ensure everyone stays on track with the company goals. Different leadership styles and poor communication during a stressful period or project can confuse employees and offer fertile ground for business conflicts.

3. Differing personality types or cultural backgrounds 

Workplaces consist of employees with different cultural backgrounds and even personality types, leading to conflicting assumptions. Personality conflict usually occurs when employees with different personality types work together. An employee's perception of a colleague's character, actions, or motives can easily be mistaken or misunderstood. With workplace diversity being a desirable attribute of any company's culture, managing such conflicts is key to a more harmonious, multicultural, and innovative workplace.

Resolving workplace conflicts as an organisation

A big step in resolving workplace conflict efficiently is setting out clear expectations for your entire organisation. Employers should seek to create or redesign their culture to view managing conflict as a core job competency, which strives to preclude issues as much as possible. This type of culture's foundation is developing strong relationships between managers and employees embedded with trust, fairness, and mutual respect. Facilitating frequent, honest, and interactive communications is also an effective means of building trust and ensuring that employees' beliefs and perceptions are consistent with the organisation's policies and practices. These conversations can also act as a reminder of clear expectations of the workplace.

Although managers are responsible for resolving workplace conflicts, the first steps to settling any dispute should be taken by employees, especially those who have complaints about others. This will help employees develop conflict-resolution skills and reduce interruptions for managers. Overall, organisations appreciate people who can think independently, handle day to day issues, and implement solutions to solve problems, whether it be tasks or people related. 

Handling workplace conflicts as an individual 

Your organisation might set out expectations like those below for all individuals to follow when dealing with workplace conflict. 

1. Be assertive

The best way forward in a conflicting situation is to think positively. Be a good listener to the opposing party's viewpoints, and patiently wait to put your thoughts forward. If there were points raised that you're confused with, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. Staying calm and positive can help you better reflect, understand, and assess.

2. Address the issue using in-person communication

The best way to resolve conflict is to communicate with the opposing party face to face. Facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice all contribute to the way we communicate. Handling a dispute through email or over the phone means we might miss out on these cues and misinterpret what someone is saying. Although it may be confronting to do so, in-person conflict resolution keeps communication clear. 

3. Be prompt

Addressing any conflicting issues at the onset will make it easier to arrive at a quick resolution. Ignoring or avoiding workplace conflict may be tempting; however, this can lead to animosity between employees and affect the workplace's overall productivity.

4. Work out a solution

It is crucial to keep an open mind when bridging the gap. This will help both parties find common ground and move forward. No matter the scale or severity of a conflict, there is always a possible workable solution that both parties can come to terms with.

5. As a manager, know where to draw the line

Employees should try to solve most conflicts between themselves. However, if the issue involves harassment or illegal activities, management becomes involved. If employees can not come to a resolution, it is important to seek third party involvement. A manager, an HR employee, or even another colleague can suggest an alternate course of action to settle the conflict.

As a manager, to facilitate continuous healthy conflict, try to be more open and empathise with your team. Employees appreciate managers who understand their motives, emotions, and responses and take the time to listen and validate their feelings. Employees also appreciate managers who are persistent and treat disputes with integrity and respect. Be clear about your expectations, and hold yourself and others accountable. Acknowledge when you make mistakes, and try to make it right. 

These positive approaches to conflict can create better relationships, sparking innovation, trust, and engagement. The most effective teams are those grounded in a culture where dissent is allowed, and members feel safe to disagree. This can foster diversity of thought and better decision-making.