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.

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