Ways to Address Workplace Conflict

Ways to Address Workplace Conflict

Conflict can be defined as a disagreement between two parties.  This disagreement stems from a perception of a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.  And because it is perceived, emotion is involved.

Conflict can occur between two colleagues, between a manager and a staff member, or between the company and clients.

Some causes for workplace conflict could include:

  • Poor communication channels
  • Unclear policies, procedures and rules
  • Unclear job descriptions
  • Unclear reporting structure
  • Operational changes

Most of these causes can be addressed to minimize conflict.  Yet conflict is a normal occurrence in any workplace. Conflict leads to a decline in productivity.  This is a crucial problem that needs to be addressed without delay.

Some ways to address conflict I have found useful are listed below.

Conflict between two colleagues

  • It is best to focus both parties on the goal.  This can be done by discussing the matter with both parties.
    • Allow each party to state their problem in about 5 minutes or less in front of you and their colleague.  They are not allowed to interrupt or restate their position until they have stated the other person’s position to their approval.  It forces them to look at the other person’s side.
    • Ask each party what they see as the ideal outcome for the conflict.  Which steps would they like the other party to take?  Are there any solutions or better ways to work so that this conflict does not occur again?
  • Another method is using a group meeting for them to air their opinions on how to reach a goal, and then having other people give input into achieving that goal. Often the conflicting parties will gain a more objective perspective this way.  They could even realize that they were not as different as they had initially thought.

 Conflict between yourself and your manager

This type of conflict can sometimes be rather obscure (sensed, rather than outright conflict).  One way to avoid this conflict is by open communication.

It is your job to let your manager look good.  It is essential that he/she be updated on any progress made, problems experienced, etc. Discuss your feelings of conflict with your manager.  Ask for suggestions from his/her side on how you can solve the problem.

It is essential to take the differences out of the emotional sphere into the rational by focusing on the goal or end result the organization wants to attain.

Conflict between the company and clients

It is crucial to actively listen, because someone who initiates the confrontation is not necessarily objective or rational. No one can argue with an emotion.

  • Recognize the emotion.  When a person is upset, they appreciate it if other people can understand what they are feeling (eg. anger, disappointment, feelings of hurt or rejection, etc)
  • Accept the emotion.  By listening actively, you can communicate to the client that their feelings are totally legitimate, and that you understand and accept that they feel that way.
  • Probe the emotion.  Sometimes the issue raised with your company may have its origin nowhere you’d expect to find it.  Probing the emotion diffuses the emotions and opens the door to reason and logic.

While conflict is a normal occurrence in the workplace, it can have a detrimental effect on productivity.  Therefore it is preferable to find the quickest informal resolution to the conflict you can, in order to maximize productivity and save the costs and unnecessary time of a formalized conflict.

What methods do you use to resolve conflict in the workplace?  Please share them below.

Tweaking your system can have a huge impact on productivity!

When you examine your business with the eye on increasing productivity, remember that it is seldom necessary to make major changes.  Rather look at what you have, and then find ways in which to streamline it.  The illustration below is an example of a small change that made a huge difference.

In an open groove mine in Johannesburg (South Africa), the production manager was not satisfied with the rate at which ore was brought out of the mine.  He was sure it could be improved on.  Sitting in his beautiful office with a view over the city, he decided that the problem was in the equipment, which was rather dated at the time.  So he ordered new loading equipment and new trucks.  It was a tedious process because of all the red tape in the organization, but a couple of months later the new equipment arrived.

The production manager eagerly awaited a report of increased productivity.  He was surprised and disappointed when he realised that there was no significant increase in productivity with the new machines.

Sitting behind his desk, he decided that the problem surely must be with the operators of these vehicles.  They probably did not know how to operate the new heavy duty machinery.  He then arranged training courses in driving and operating heavy machinery for all his mining staff.  The mining staff enjoyed the break from work, with the accompanying free meals and tea-times during training.  Once back on the job, they tackled their jobs with enthusiasm.

The production manager eagerly awaited a report of increased productivity.  His rage boiled over when the report showed only a slight increase.  He flew out of his comfortable chair, left his plush office, donned a working outfit and visited the mine for himself!

At the open groove mine, the problem was evident immediately.  Because of a rock jotting out on the side of the road in one place, only one vehicle could go either up or down at a time. Traffic going up and traffic going down had to wait for each other at that spot.

The surprised production manager had the rock blasted away immediately, and the traffic started flowing freely.  His next productivity report was very rewarding.  Production had more than tripled.

What “rocks” are preventing you from achieving optimal productivity?

Are you slaving your way towards poverty?

Thomas felt very productive at the end of his work day.  He had crammed in 6 meetings, and rushed through a myriad of tasks and phone calls and gotten them done before heading for the gym.  He felt really good about himself.  He was the guy that knew exactly what was going on in the business, and without his input the business would be lost.  That is why he had not taken a vacation in 4 years.  The business simply could not function without him!  However, Thomas did not mind, because he thought that the faster his pace of life, the more value he had as a person.  Thus he desperately tried to cram as much as possible into his days.

Unfortunately Thomas confused being busy with being productive.  He had lost sight of the business goals, and as a manager, had forgotten that his task should have been facilitating the workflow instead of actually doing the work himself.

Ralph Keyes stated that:  “Only by stepping back can we spot … how addictive it is to be rushed and busy.  … Business can keep us from having to reflect, risk intimacy, or face the void.  … We’re never forced to ask ourselves what really matters.

Ernie J Zelinski, in his book titled The Joy of Not Working, defines peak performers and workaholics this way:

A peak performer (ie. someone who is productive)  is someone who…

  • Works regular hours
  • Has defined goals
  • Delegates as much as possible
  • Has many interests outside of work
  • Takes and enjoys vacations
  • Has deep friendships outside of work
  • Minimizes conversation about work matters
  • Can enjoy “goofing off.”
  • Feels life is a celebration.

A workaholic, on the other hand, is someone who…

  • Works long hours
  • Has no defined goals (works simply for the sake of working)
  • Cannot delegate work to others
  • Has no interest outside of work
  • Misses vacations to work
  • Always talks about work matters
  • Is always busy doing something
  • Feels life is difficult.

Unfortunately for Thomas, a year later his company hit the rocks.  No amount of blind activity could save it from disaster.  What a pity he had not taken to heart the words of Plato: In order to seek one’s own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life.