From poor communication to bad management, any working environment will experience some type of conflict.
Be it between employees and supervisors or between team members, the main causes of workplace conflict may include, but aren’t restricted to:
- Unmet needs
- Personality and behaviour differences
- Lack of clarity in roles
- Poor communication
While trying to sweep conflict under the rug may seem like a good idea, the truth is that workplace conflict is inevitable. Postponing it or trying to avoid it altogether will only make it worse.
Rather, leaders should try to resolve and manage conflict immediately, so as to prevent it from recurring. Unresolved conflict brings with it loss of productivity, diminished creativity, as well as
obstacles to collaboration. Not to mention, an increase in absenteeism and turnover.
So, how can business owners resolve conflict effectively, and without wasting anyone’s time?
In the words of leadership advisor Mike Myatt, “the challenge of conflict lies in how one chooses to deal with it.” Leaders will have to solve conflict no matter what – the challenge is in knowing
which steps will get them there.
In this article, we’ll go over the steps needed to manage and resolve conflict in the workplace, no matter where it’s coming from.
Clarify the True Source
It’s no secret that uncovering the true reason and the parties behind the conflict should be the first step.
But that’s not all: in order to decrease the severity of the conflict, leaders must act fast.
According to Myatt, “time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions will help to avoid unnecessary conflict.”
Conflict doesn’t materialise out of thin air. There’s always an initiator or catalyser. It’s your job to help pinpoint the cause of the conflict, as well as try to understand what exactly has set fuel to
When mediating conflict, you should take a step back. Remember that you’re not here to take sides. Instead, you’re here to understand the underlying emotions of the people in conflict. It’s
also your job to ask questions, and try to understand what may have led an employee (or multiple employees) to do what they have done.
In addition, be impartial and discuss both sides of the issue. By doing that, you’ll have more to work with by collecting enough information from each end.
Arrange a Meeting
Especially when the conflict in question seems trivial, it can be tempting to just passively listen.
Or worse: it can be tempting to let the parties resolve the matter between themselves.
Not only will this worsen the conflict, but it may even generate other sources of conflict involving other people. You don’t want that.
Any type of friction, no matter how small, should be formally settled in a private place with the mediator and both parties present. This shouldn’t be a public, informal discussion. If it’s treated
as an informal issue, employees may assume you think their problems aren’t worth a proper discussion.
Listen, Listen, Listen
Research from The Workforce Institute showed that 83% of employees feel they aren’t heard “fairly or equally,” while 60% believe their views and opinions are ignored in the workplace. If you’d like to avoid being this type of person, you should learn to listen impartially.
After getting both parties to meet with you in private, give each of them an equal opportunity to share their views on the problem. And while they do it, listen to them with empathy and curiosity.
This isn’t the time to agree or disagree with anyone. Remind yourself that, even if you may favour one point of view over the other, you haven’t heard the full story yet. Do your best to
control your body language and any remarks at this stage.
To borrow from Jennifer Lee, a director of learning and development at JB Training Solutions, “people listen selectively, based on their own experiences, hearing what they want to hear.”
Unless you’d like the conflict in question to grow some legs, you’d avoid selective listening at all costs.
After listening to both parties and gathering the information you need, it’s time to identify possible solutions that benefit both. This doesn’t have to be done straight away — you can give yourself enough time to think, and enough time for them to clear their heads.
Allowing yourself time is more beneficial than trying to come up with solutions on the spot. By talking to other concerned parties, you avoid the risk of anticipating unfair solutions. What you’ve heard isn’t all there is to the situation, so do your best to dodge biases.
Ideally, you should collect different solution ideas, and look for a mutually beneficial scenario.
Do Your Best to Resolve the Conflict
This is the part where you should try to find points of overlap. This is the win–win situation we’ve talked about earlier: one both parties can agree on.
According to a 2021 article by Western Governors University “once employees have hashed out their issues, they realise they’re actually working toward the same goal—they just have differing opinions on how to reach it. Once you’ve helped them identify the common objective, it’s much easier to work toward a solution.”
Besides, employees don’t even need to feel like they’re right. Not really. Sometimes, all they want is to make sure they’ve been heard, and that you’ve considered their point of view.
Next, you should outline the most probable solution to the problem. Make sure both parties are on board, and let them come to an agreement about an action plan. If they find that it’s a difficult
decision, guide them toward an option that will benefit both of them.
Don’t forget to follow up with the employees involved after a few days. Even after the issue has been resolved, it’s important to ensure that there are no more issues. If something else comes up, rinse and repeat until the problem doesn’t resurface.
Know When to Look For Help
In certain cases, a conversation between employers and employees may not be enough to settle a conflict. Cases in point:
- There have been instances of harassment or any type of discrimination.
- Team members are considering quitting over the conflict.
- There are constant disagreements between more than two employees.
- Conflicts are disrupting workflow and employee morale.
Human Resources should intervene in any conflicts that threaten the company’s success and reputation in any way. In some cases, it may be necessary to hire third–party companies to train staff on Psychological Safety principles.
Leave Conflicts Unresolved, and They’ll Come Back Stronger
“If you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, you should not be in a leadership role,” says Mike Myatt. Instead of protesting the clash, you should visualise the potential for growth in every difficult situation. Because there always is one.
Decide to wait for conflict to resolve itself, and you’ll be setting yourself up for even bigger problems in the future. Remember: when it first comes up, the conflict is the simplest it will ever be.