As soon as employees vie for scarce resources, tension often arises. For instance, when one employee monopolizes the fax machine while another desperately needs one of his/her faxes sent, the pressure quickly turns to outright conflict.
Conflict is inevitable in any workplace, but businesses must take steps to channel it toward productive outcomes rather than destructive conflict that undermines productivity and morale. Successful companies take the time to identify their sources before taking steps to address them accordingly.
Identifying the Problem
Preventing workplace conflict from escalating is of the utmost importance. Conflict can manifest in subtle or overt ways and, if left unaddressed, may lead to negative repercussions for all concerned, including low morale, inefficiency, confusion, lack of teamwork, and difficulty meeting objectives. Establishing an open-door policy where employees are encouraged to address management with any issues is one way of pressing this form of communication between managers and employees.
Preventive tools, like 360 performance reviews and employee surveys, can also alert you of potential issues. Listening impartially to everyone involved helps establish whether a conflict exists and, if it does, where its source lies.
Conflict can arise for various reasons, including differing work styles, tight deadlines, demanding clients, or an unclear chain of command. Depending on its severity and duration, new policies, procedures, or systems might need to be introduced to rectify or address problems effectively.
Individuals could also pose a threat to the success of the business. If an employee is criticizing coworkers, spreading gossip, or adding extra hours to work duties, you must investigate and end these behaviors as soon as possible.
Disputes that escalate to threats, insults, racial abuse, or physical contact constitute workplace violence under Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and can be punished accordingly. When this occurs, all workers involved should be relocated to separate locations immediately while their positions should be made clear.
Once all parties involved have had an opportunity to express their frustrations and discuss the problem, you should encourage them to think of potential solutions together. Brainstorming helps build trust between the people involved, leading them toward an outcome that satisfies both parties. Being open-minded about options means both will likely be satisfied with the result – this process is called finding “common ground.” Often, people discover they share more in common than initially anticipated and can work together on solutions.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Finding the root of workplace conflict requires pinpointing its source. Sometimes, this may be obvious – when two employees clash over personalities or have disagreements over business ideas, decisions, or actions taken – while at other times, the cause could be obscure or hidden: anger may stem from personal problems, tight deadlines, or an uncooperative client that negatively affects work performance.
Once you understand what’s happening, it’s time to bring together any feuding workers and begin discussing. Before doing so, however, ask both to agree to communicate appropriately and maturely – any aggressive, shouty, or other immature behaviors will only worsen matters.
As part of your conversation, allow each employee to present their side of the story without interruption and ask if any steps could help reach an amicable resolution of the conflict. This will enable you to assess if a solution can be achieved through dialogue alone or whether further steps need to be taken.
If employees can’t agree, consider convening a meeting between supervisors or managers and employees as mediators to assess and help resolve their differences. This allows review and any necessary action, such as altering work responsibilities or seating arrangements.
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, but its damage can be reduced if addressed quickly and decisively. Ignoring it for too long can erode morale and productivity while depending on its nature, it could even threaten employees’ safety or the reputation of your business. When conflict escalates to violence – including threats, bullying, racial abuse, or physical contact – employees should consult their union representatives or health and safety officers immediately for advice; should the conflict involve management, your human resources department must also become involved immediately.
People in a conflict may hold different viewpoints, yet everyone involved must be heard. This is particularly true of managers in leadership positions who must often step in to mediate work conflict. When handled appropriately, workplace disputes can provide valuable learning experiences both for employees and businesses as a whole.
When mediating a dispute between colleagues, pay close attention to listening carefully without judgment or criticism from either side. This will enable all involved parties to comprehend each other’s positions better, see how their actions might impact others, and keep emotions under control, which could escalate the dispute further.
Facial expressions can help convey that you’re listening actively; nodding, tilting your head backward, and smiling can all show that you understand and are engaged with what someone else says. Asking questions is another vital element of active listening as it allows you to fully gather all available information from colleagues and assess if any additional considerations need to be addressed.
Avoid interrupting when they’re speaking unless it is essential. While it can be tempting to fill gaps of silence with thoughts of your own, this can come across as rude and interruptive. Instead, take this time to think over what has been said or take deep breaths to calm yourself.
Encourage your colleagues to propose solutions that take both parties’ interests into account, which may help them realize that a potential settlement might not be so far off from reality as they thought initially.
Avoid words that imply sympathy, such as “I know this must be hard for you.” While these phrases might aim to instill compassion, their tone may come across as patronizing and judge your colleagues instead. Your goal should be for them to leave feeling respected while acknowledging their differences.
As soon as employees and businesses have differing views or working styles, conflict is inevitable. Left unaddressed, it can result in an uncomfortable work environment and reduced productivity; if handled positively, however, it can lead to improved business processes and even innovation. Here are some methods for recognizing and resolving workplace disagreements when they occur.
Keep an eye on how your employees communicate. If they spend too much time gossiping, arguing, or simply avoiding each other, a conflict is brewing. Additionally, pay close attention to turnover and absenteeism rates; an increase in sick days or early departure could signal that stress levels in your team have reached crisis proportions.
Be proactive to prevent issues from worsening quickly by having direct discussions about them directly with all workers involved when a problem is detected. Emails or notes sent in response could come across as insensitive; make it clear that you will listen and work toward finding an amicable resolution for all parties involved in any conflict that you come across.
Being empathic and respectful during a conflict discussion is crucial, as your tone of voice and body language will set the stage for further discussions. Ask employees to focus on ideas or issues that need resolving instead of personal differences, preferences, or values – this way, you can help lead them toward finding solutions they both accept as suitable solutions.
Once a conflict is settled, it’s essential to follow up with those involved and understand their opinions regarding how it was addressed and whether it works long-term for them. Also, keep track of employee incidents to identify areas for improvement within your company culture.
Conflict is inevitable in any business, but you can help to minimize it by creating an open environment in which workers feel free to express their opinions and take risks. Furthermore, having clear communication guidelines and work processes that everyone understands and appreciates is also essential in maintaining harmony in your workplace.