Differences, disagreements, disputes in the workplace: they happen.
Conflicting viewpoints on critical issues are inevitable when individuals work together. But not all conflict is necessarily negative – healthy debate can lead to new ideas and spark innovation.
But if discussion spills over into negativity, it can become disruptive; undermining morale, creating tension and stress, and ultimately crippling performance.
Conflict can arise between colleagues, peer groups, between employees and managers, departments or even in C-suite. It can be overt, with angry clashes, or it can be subversive, expressed in undertones of discontentment.
At the least, it creates an unpleasant atmosphere of gossip and criticism. At worst, it can end in litigation or even damage to your company’s reputation. And it costs – in terms of time and money.
So, having strategies to manage conflict in the workplace is essential to ensure escalation can be prevented with timely action that addresses any issues head-on.
In this article, I would like to offer a checklist of five steps you can take to handle workplace conflict successfully.
What Causes Conflict?
Before we look at the steps to mitigate disruption, it’s useful to consider how it arises in the first place. What are the leading causes?
Conflict often occurs when individuals have competing ideas or interests – for example, your Technical Manager and Sales Director may clash over priorities over a new product. The technical team may wish to ensure the product is thoroughly tested and efficient before taking it to market, while the sales department is keen to start promotional campaigns.
Alternatively, general grumbles about working conditions or remuneration, fear of redundancy or feeling unfairly treated can soon escalate if not addressed.
Problems can also arise from discrimination or harassment; if individuals are treating other people unkindly due to their beliefs or disability.
It can even stem from poorly organised workplaces. For example, if there are not enough resources to go around, or you have an open office space where some people prefer to work quietly, but others enjoy boisterous, brainstorming sessions.
And sometimes it’s simply a case of personality clashes.
The above is, of course, by no means an exhaustive list of causes, but serves to demonstrate that the roots can be many and varied. So, what can you do about it? Here are those five steps to help you manage conflict.
1. Be Aware of Conflict
It sounds obvious, but sometimes managers and senior leaders are so wrapped up in their work and company business that they don’t see conflict in their teams begin to bubble.
Fostering an inclusive and communicative team will help you keep on track with their daily concerns. If you encourage transparent communication, you are more likely to hear when there’s a problem in the early stages – and before it develops into a more pressing concern.
2. Stay Rational
Your job as a manager is to remain calm in times of discord. So, staying impassive and investigating the conflict is the best way forward. Seek to understand the root cause so that you can assess what has happened before taking action.
Whatever you do, it’s wise to remain neutral and unruffled. Remember that you set an example for the rest of your team.
3. Clear The Air
It’s also a good idea to let individuals have their say on the issue, whatever it may be.
Good listening skills are critical to conflict resolution. Sometimes the very act of saying something out loud and being heard is enough to diffuse a volatile situation. Being listened to may make individuals feel vindicated, so listen actively, ask questions and encourage others to do the same.
It’s paramount that you remain impartial at this time so that once the air has been cleared, you can identify ways forward with which everyone is on board.
4. Implement and Evaluate
Remember to focus on the problem, not the individual members of your team. People will always have differing opinions, so promoting tolerance and understanding to reach a compromise is the key to a successful outcome.
Depending on the cause of the conflict, you will need to decide on appropriate action. This could be informal advice and mutually agreed on resolutions to implement if the issue is trivial, or it could involve more formal processes involving your HR department for serious matters.
Whatever the outcome, ensure everyone understands what has been decided and are willing to take responsibility for actions that have been agreed. You can do this informally by verbal agreement, or you may prefer to have written consent.
Also, remember to avoid the assumption that the matter is solved at this point. By regularly evaluating how well the solution is working, you will help ascertain if further action is needed.
5. Future Proof Your Team
Once a solution or way forward has been agreed, it’s essential to monitor it.
Evaluating the success of solutions will keep everyone on track, and will enable you to deal with any further issues that arise quickly.
Additionally, you may wish to consider preventative strategies for dealing with future conflict and improving your company culture. These could include:
Having an open-door policy so staff can come to you with issues. Being approachable and taking your employees seriously will make them comfortable with approaching you if they have concerns.
Implementing training in Equality and Diversity, or Awareness, to ensure your team is tolerant and understanding of others who hold different beliefs and ideas.
Regularly checking in with employees to see if they need additional resources, or encouraging them to submit requests.
Rearranging office spaces to provide group spaces and quieter areas, so different working styles are accommodated.
Implementing a formal Conflict Resolution Policy that lays out your company procedures and states your zero tolerance of aggressive or discriminatory behaviour.
Dealing with conflict in the workplace can be challenging for managers, but by meeting it head-on, learning how to diffuse a hostile situation and seeking to find a resolution, you will keep team relationships healthy, your customers happy, and your business successful.
If you are are looking to scale your team, or you’re an executive who is thinking about a change of role, we can help. With many years’ experience placing executive level candidates in their ideal job role, we can help create a smooth transition.
So, if you would like to work with an experienced recruiting partner, call us on 01905 381320 or get in contact here.
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