Conflict in the Workplace
Conflict in the workplace take place when multiple parties disagree with one another, and haven’t yet found a solution or resolution. It can be a drain on your organization: Every unaddressed conflict wastes about eight hours of company time. But it doesn’t have to be. Resolving conflict in the workplace effectively can actually encourage innovation and team building, while reducing stress.
This blog post walks through why conflict typically arises, how to avoid unnecessary conflict, and how to resolve inevitable conflict.
Causes of Conflict in the Workplace
Don’t worry, conflict in the workplace is a common occurrence. About 75% of employees have experienced conflict at work, in fact, during the course of their career.
Generally, the causes of conflict in the workplace fall into one of these four categories:
Misunderstandings large and small happen as a result of poor communication. Unclear job roles, vague project scopes, misunderstood remarks, or differing perceptions of a request — they can all create conflict as each party works to get on the same page.
Change can be overwhelming. Employees are expected to move outside their comfort zone to keep up with changing roles, teams, resources, or workplace behaviors. The stress of adapting can lead to conflict with those driving change or, perhaps, with those who’ve adapted more or less quickly.
Conflict can arise when involved parties rely on different priorities to solve a problem. If one party needs to cut a budget while the other needs to grow an audience, for instance, then their approach to planning an event may differ — thus creating conflict over the best way to plan the event.
Everyone’s personality impacts their work approach. Some people are more assertive; others, quieter. Some people are analyzers; others, go-getters. While there’s a proven benefit to bringing multiple perspectives to the table, doing so can create conflict as the group decides on the best approach to a problem.
Preventing Conflict in the Workplace
Good news: Your organization and its employees holds the ability to avoid some conflict.
Here are six ways to prevent conflicts from arising.
- Create a company culture that clearly defines the behaviors, beliefs, interactions, and attitudes dictating how things get done within your organization.
- Define shared values that reflect your culture, what you care about, and what you stand for. Use these values as your guiding principles in everything you do.
- Strengthen your organizational culture qualities, or the 10 objectively good qualities to foster: Collaboration, innovation, agility, communication, support, wellness, work environment, responsibility, performance focus, and mission and value alignment.
- Your organization’s culture is a unique reflection of your team and leadership, customer expectations and marketplace demands. Identify your strategic culture qualities, or the unique qualities that sets your organization apart.
- Show respect, always. Feedback should never get personal. Focusing on the work at hand will prevent feelings from being hurt and employees from lashing back.
- Encourage curiosity. Employees should feel they can (respectfully) question approaches to solving a problem. Doing so keeps them engaged and fosters a healthy dialogue.
We’ve also documented 60+ culture tips in this free eGuide. Use them to strengthen your culture and reduce unnecessary conflict.
Resolving Conflicts in the Workplace
It’s inevitable; sometimes conflict will arise. If you’ve empowered your team with the right workplace conflict resolution strategies, conflict doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Working through differences can strengthen team bonds, develop empathy, improve employee happiness, and encourage innovative thinking.
Here’s an overview of how to approach conflict resolution in the workplace:
- Bring all involved parties into the same room. If your company has remote employees, bring everyone on the same line or video call.
- Off the bat, give every involved party a voice. Ask everyone to describe the conflict at hand and how they’d change it. Pro tip: Set some ground rules. No blaming. No bringing in past disagreements.
- Encourage everyone to listen thoughtfully and openly. No defending oneself or jumping to a solution before everyone has had their say.
- Write out the challenge at hand, to confirm everyone is on the same page.
- Once everyone has spoken, decide on how you’ll decide on a solution. Consensus? Majority vote? One stakeholder?
- Brainstorm solutions together.
- Find commonalities in your ideas that show potential for solving the problem.
- Generally, by this stage, you’re able to make a decision on moving forward. You may not have solved the entire issue at hand — even deciding on a next step is an important resolution to conflict, which can often feel like a dead-end.
Finally, remember: Conflict can cross a line into bullying or assault where resolving it requires third-party intervention. Generally, watch out for two warning signs. First, is the conflict a recurring issue? Second, does it break your company’s code of conduct or go against your company’s shared values? Third-party interventions can take the form of pulling in a manager, leader, or HR expert. It can also take the form of turning to legal counsel.