A certain amount of conflict in the workplace is inevitable.
We would not be human if we agreed with our colleagues all the time. In fact, conflict can facilitate positive change if it’s dealt with properly. So how do you go about dealing with conflict in the workplace? And what’s the best way to a resolution that allows all parties to move forward?
The good news is that there’s some great strategies for managing conflict. Before you can put them into play, it’s important to understand what type of conflict you’re dealing with.
Three common types of workplace conflict
1. Working style clash
When working and/or management styles clash, employees can find themselves getting frustrated and annoyed. For example, a macro manager (hands off) may feel frustrated by an employee who’s not taking initiative and delivering what’s expected. The employee, on the other hand, may want their manager to be more specific about expectations, to set clear objectives and check in regularly.
2. Personal disputes
Personal disputes between employees can be some of the most difficult conflicts to resolve. Whether it’s a personality clash or an allegation of workplace bullying, these need to be dealt with immediately. Other employees are likely to be aware of ongoing personal disputes and feel the fallout. They’ll also be looking at how the employer handles the conflict, wanting to see that employee wellbeing is top priority.
3. Business related conflicts
Business related conflicts can occur at any time but they’re more likely when there’s extra pressure at work. Whether the employer is downsizing, restructuring or there’s a big project underway, stress and additional workloads can push people over the edge. Keeping a close eye on employees during these periods, is part of a good human resources strategy.
Four steps to a resolution
1. Understand and define.
The first step towards resolving conflict in the workplace is to understand it. Meet separately with all those involved and get to the root of the problem. Document the issues. Remember that you’re setting the tone for the business so it’s important to strike the right balance of empathy and professionalism. During your meetings, keep the focus on the problem rather than the person. For example, if one employee feels they’re carrying another, it may be more about the workload than the people involved.
2. Reframe the conflict.
Refocus and reset the situation when employees shift their focus away from the initial dispute, becoming embroiled in a more personal conflict. That means clarifying the issue as you see it and bringing the conversation back to the work itself. Arrange a meeting with those involved and stress at the outset that respect is non-negotiable. Encourage an open discussion but be ready to jump in if things start getting personal.
3. The practical resolution
Work with employees on practical ways the conflict can be resolved. It may be that certain processes need to better managed, with clear responsibilities, or that both parties need to delegate more of their work. Use questions to find common ground, such as ‘do we all agree that?’ or ‘Are we all happy that?’ Identify common goals and propose actionable solutions; make sure to document everything and give each employee a copy.
4. Follow through and follow up.
Follow up every conflict, even if you think it’s been resolved. You need to make sure that any resolutions are being properly implemented and that things are improving. Make a regular time to meet with anyone who’s been part of a conflict resolution to check in on them and see how they’re feeling. If things take a turn for the worst or veer off course, be ready to correct or renegotiate.
Setting high standards for conflict resolution in the workplace is one of the best things you can do for your company. Not only does it reflect on employee morale but also on the company’s reputation as a good employer. By staying calm and working through a conflict resolution process with employees, you’ll be contributing to a happy work environment where people feel respected and valued.