December 6, 2023

“People are annoying.

Liz Kislik, a management consultant and business coach, believes that conflict wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for these annoying people who can’t seem to control themselves. But that’s the easiest part of the story. It supports that when we act on this belief, the conflict persists and causes further damage. Therefore, if we want to solve conflict in the workplace, we need to see what is hidden under this conflict.

According to Kislik, instead of blaming the people involved in the conflict and just expecting them to make things right, we need to examine the root of the problem that causes unproductive conflict.

But let’s further explore what conflicts at work can look like with an example.

Clara’s team was amazing, with one exception. Ben usually had a bad attitude. He was often negative during team meetings, did not engage in teamwork and was generally arrogant. Clara tried to motivate, encourage and support Ben, but to no avail.

Soon there was a big disagreement between Ben and another colleague. Staff working at nearby tables stopped their tasks to find out why people were shouting at each other. The atmosphere in the office was tense, productivity was suspended and people felt uncomfortable. Clara went there and tried to calm down the two employees and asked them to follow her to her office. She explained to everyone that such conflict is not accepted in the workplace and verbally warned them.

But shortly after that another dispute occurred. She knew she had to do more than just warn her team members.

Although conflict is inevitable, you should not fear it. People are different and their motives, processes, goals and ways of communication may differ. These can cause misunderstanding, closed-mindedness and passive-aggressive behavior. But when conflicts are handled properly, they can bring good change to your organization.

Conflicts should never be taken lightly or ignored.

Stop the War: How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

How No resolve conflicts

One way to resolve conflict is… not to resolve it.

In other words, take no concrete action and just assume or hope that things will get better over time. Or reduce its impact and sweep things under the rug. Avoidance seems like the easy way out. But it’s not the best solution.

According to a recent survey, 4.6% of respondents said avoidance was their coping style, and in another study, 67% of employees went out of their way to avoid a colleague they disagreed with. People tend to avoid discussing frustrations and concerns when things are calm. But when the discomfort is not addressed, employees are like ticking bombs ready to explode and angrily blurt it all out. Trying to avoid an argument altogether may seem like a less stressful option, but it usually creates tension and resentment and can lead to more arguments.

Being defensive can cause bigger problems in the long run and won’t help you deal with conflict in the workplace because conflict between your teams will continue to grow and hurt your business.

According to a Randstad US study, avoiding conflict resolution can lead to 58% of workers leaving their jobs due to disruptive workplace policies, 38% wanting to quit because they don’t fit into such cultures, and 86% of potential new hires not doing so. Does not apply to organizations with a poor workforce rating. Also according to a CIPD study, poorly handled conflicts can lead to 27% of personal attacks and insults, 25% of absenteeism and sickness and 9% of project failures.

Conflict can occur in the workplace because employees have different POVs or because they communicate differently. Sometimes when people spend a lot of time together, they depend heavily on each other to complete a task or have high expectations that were not communicated from the beginning, which can lead to arguments.

Conflict will happen no matter what. But when employees are able to discuss challenging topics in an inclusive and supportive way, new ideas emerge and collaboration is fostered. Good communication in a calm environment allows people to share their thoughts without fear, anger or disrespect.

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How to manage workplace conflict in 7 steps

Workplace conflict can turn out to be beneficial if employees, managers, and leaders learn how to deal with it successfully. Learn how to handle conflict in the workplace below.

1. Be proactive

A great way to resolve workplace conflict is to try to prevent it. You should pinpoint and evaluate areas where conflict may occur and intervene before it occurs. And if the conflict has already occurred, even if you were proactive, it is sure to be less long and serious.

Be aware of any natural tensions that occur in the workplace and see how you can minimize or eliminate them. For example, if your sales team doesn’t work well with your marketing team, conflicts can easily erupt between team members. Any great leader will be able to identify this and will try to do so invest in team bonding between departments to eliminate the possibility of conflict.

Pro tip: To ensure great team collaboration, facilitate team bonding activities that allow people from different departments and environments to interact. When employees have positive working relationships, they are less likely to argue.

2. Establish clear guidelines for acceptable behavior

Assuming that employees understand acceptable behavior in the workplace is a big challenge. Sometimes the lines between what is acceptable and what is not are completely blurred, leading to confusion and misunderstanding. So the best practice for dealing with workplace conflict properly is to set clear guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable. Reinforce these policies to new hires and frequently remind existing employees of what you expect from them.

With remote and hybrid employees, it can be even more difficult to set clear expectations. So you should thoroughly explain good workplace behavior and make sure it is followed by offering remote training strategies (using microlearning, gamification, peer-to-peer sessions or other remote training solutions), scheduling virtual 1:1 sessions and online discussions surveys. Include such policies in your employee handbook and review them as needed. Finally, have all employees sign an agreement that they understand and accept the policy.

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3. Strengthen direct communication

It’s set in stone – clear and effective communication is absolutely essential for all parts of your organization. And without exception in conflict solving. A lack of communication can lead to a number of problems between your teams. For example, one of your people may have misunderstood the principles of good behavior at work because management did not communicate them effectively, or they misinterpreted the intentions of a colleague. It is therefore more than necessary to train employees and managers on how to communicate properly in the workplace.

Don’t forget your remote and hybrid workers. Miscommunication is more common in remote environments because a lack of (or poor) interaction can lead to greater conflict. Support virtual communication with the right solutions. Be careful not to lose tone when sending DMs or emails. And teach your teams to respond in a reasonable amount of time.

Pro tip: Encourage and teach your remote people to use online communication tools and make sure they follow the correct ones digital communication etiquette.

4. Be careful with timing

You don’t want to try to resolve the conflict while it’s still simmering. In such cases, timing matters. Instead, give it time to cool down and then communicate with the stakeholders separately. Angry people are not rational in their decision making, nor do they have a clear mind to see why things went wrong.

Think about it – involving angry or frustrated employees in mediation can quickly escalate a conflict. What you want is to resolve any issues, and to do that you need the people involved to be calm and focused. Give them time. Conflict resolution can take a while.

5. Invest in conflict management training

Training on how to handle conflict it is mandatory in the workplace and should not be ignored by any organization. Conflict in the workplace is a huge problem that must be addressed by leaders, managers and employees alike. By offering proper training to all employees, you will raise awareness of conflict and how it can be averted.

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Management training: Sometimes leaders do not have the experience or skills to facilitate conflict resolution. They may even be more avoidant when conflicts arise. It is essential that you offer targeted conflict management training that facilitates best practice resolution.

For distributed teams, train managers on how to manage employees in telecommuting settings and specifically provide them with solutions to common telecommuting-related conflicts. Don’t assume they have the know-how to handle such situations. Instead, offer training on topics like workplace discrimination, DEI, harassment, etc. These topics it will give them a holistic approach to understanding why and how conflicts can occur. In this way, they will be better able to handle any tension in the workplace.

Staff training: Whether it’s new employees or existing employees, conflict resolution training is essential for everyone on your teams. In addition to leadership and management guidance, employees themselves need to know exactly how to identify potential rising tensions and how to address them. And even before they discover more about conflict resolution, it’s important for them to be aware of business etiquette, diversity, discrimination and harassment at work so they know how to behave in the workplace and avoid misunderstandings.

Simply, what you train your leaders, train your employeesalso.

6. Don’t forget the WIIFM factor

“What’s in it for me?” is a big factor in helping leaders resolve employee conflicts. Employees need to know how things can affect them personally – what they stand to gain or lose in any given situation. And this plays a huge role in their overall motivation to avoid conflict and do their best.

Let your people know the benefits your organization offers for good manners in a clear and meaningful way. Allow them to discover the benefits (both personal and professional) that good behavior offers them.

7. Use conflict to grow

Conflict in the workplace is always an opportunity for growth. Disagreements (when handled properly) are very healthy and play a big role in the development of your company. They help your teams connect and learn through sharing ideas.

So when you are in conflict, turn it into a positive experience and ask yourself or your employees, “What can be learned from this conflict?” “How can we prevent this in the future?”. It’s important to ask the right questions and help your people learn and grow. Every workplace situation can be an opportunity for improvement and overall success.

Make friends, not war

Diverse voices from people coming from different social and cultural backgrounds are a real treasure for your organization. Brainstorming, critical thinking and decision making can be a wonderful experience for your employees when they share different ideas, opinions, talents, skills and opinions.

What you need to do is allow them to talk and share their concerns or differing opinions in a healthy and supportive environment. Conflict can occur even in the healthiest of workplacesso preparing the work environment accordingly can provide the support and reassurance your teams need to flourish and succeed.

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