Conflicts are a part of life, so they are never going to just totally disappear.
In the workplace, conflicts can be distracting and frustrating. They can prevent employees from developing to their full potential.
On top of that, they can cost your business a bundle.
Workplace conflicts arise for many reasons, such as personality clashes, incompatible working styles, differing roles and different goals. Employees get into conflicts over work relationships, power and status. The conflicts can be structural, conceptual or technical.
What all these types of conflicts have in common is they can usually be resolved promptly and professionally by a good manager who is willing to take the time and make the effort to address them.
Knowing how conflicts work — and how to effectively engage in conflict resolution — is a key driver of organizational and professional success.
The importance of addressing workplace conflict
Good conflict management sets the stage for a positive work environment, improved communication, and increased productivity. When people can work together with minimal conflict, it improves morale and reduces turnover.
It can also lead to better problem-solving skills and more creative solutions to business challenges.
Improves workplace relationships
Effective conflict resolution improves workplace relationships by helping team members to thrive. Employees do their best work when they are confident their manager has their back and will help them to smooth over any bumps, or conflicts, that crop up.
For instance, a team member who can dive into a project without fear that they’ll be seen as stepping on other people’s toes, or trying to take a colleague’s position, is more likely to put in their best effort.
A good manager looks to head off those kinds of conflicts before they happen. This has a positive impact on team cohesion and collaboration.
For example, an employee who is confident that another worker is not trying to take their job is more likely to pitch in and share their insights and experience, which will produce a better outcome.
Addressing workplace conflict in the right way can influence productivity by opening our eyes to new ideas. An experienced manager can invite new perspectives by encouraging healthy dialogue and debate when differences arise in the work environment.
This fosters creative teamwork as you encourage individuals to challenge assumptions and break away from the mold. By learning to handle conflict effectively, you ultimately fuel innovation — and that invariably leads to improved efficiency.
Here are two common examples of workplace conflict management:
- Many workplaces have a bully who takes credit for other people’s work. A good manager addresses this conflict by giving credit where it is due — and giving that credit publicly so other team members are aware.
- Strong creative opinions frequently cause conflict at work. Often the best solution is to try to blend the ideas. Start by having the team identify the best part of each idea, and then try to blend those parts into the best solution.
Develops your conflict resolution skills
Being able to effectively address conflict in the workplace is a skill you can apply elsewhere in life because the basic techniques don’t change. Conflict resolution is a skill you’ll just get better at every time you put it to work.
Some people are predisposed to avoiding conflict, which eventually turns into grumpiness, the silent treatment and rude comments.
Leaders who embrace the idea that conflicts are a natural part of the workplace, and that conflict management skills are tools that need to be learned and developed, will reap the rewards in the form of efficient and productive workplace teams.
Conflict resolution tips
It’s important for good managers to be ready and willing to face conflict head-on and have possible solutions ready to implement. To do that, you need tools. So here they are.
Here are the top seven tips for conflict resolution in the workplace.
1. Establish open communication channels
Open communication is at its best when managers and team members feel free to express their differing opinions, ideas and concerns with each other in a steady and transparent manner.
Managers can encourage this by scheduling regular one-on-one or team check-ins to create a space for employees to discuss concerns and share updates. This proactive approach develops communication skills and helps identify issues before they escalate.
Also, consider providing a platform for employees to submit feedback anonymously. This allows people to speak their minds without fear of retaliation.
2. Foster a positive work environment
Team-building exercises or events strengthen interpersonal relationships, which leads directly to better collaboration and reduces conflicts in the work environment.
Though some morale-building events may look like all fun and games, they are designed to encourage people to work as a team. Countless studies have documented the link between team building and improved employee performance.
The benefits of team building include better:
- Communication: Most exercises require thoughtful communication to win the game or solve the problem.
- Motivation: Activities offer the opportunity to try something new and refresh motivation.
- Problem-solving: Solving fun problems as a team develops ongoing problem-solving, creativity and innovation skills.
- Trust and connection: Bringing different areas together can bridge gaps between departments and help teams understand each other’s needs and goals.
It also pays to implement a recognition program to acknowledge employees for their contributions. Positive reinforcement can create a culture where individuals feel valued, reducing tension in the workplace and improving overall well-being.
3. Provide conflict resolution training
To be successful, it’s important for organizations to conduct training sessions that focus on improving communication, active listening and constructive feedback.
Employees need to be given the tools to both express themselves and to understand their colleagues more fully.
Your managers also need these same skills, as well as mediation techniques, conflict de-escalation skills, and the ability to facilitate constructive conversations.
The top 10 communication skills tips for conflict resolution are:
- No finger-pointing.
- Let people explain themselves.
- Use ‘I’ statements.
- Stay calm.
- Be willing to compromise.
- Don’t talk behind people’s backs.
- Avoid taking things personally.
- Pay close attention to nonverbal communication.
- Prioritize resolving the conflict over being right.
4. Establish clear policies and procedures
Workplace conflict often arises simply because people don’t know the rules.
That’s why it’s important to clearly outline workplace expectations and acceptable behavior in employee handbooks and written policies.
Employees should also be made aware of the consequences of violating these standards.
Outline the steps involved in your conflict resolution processes, making the processes transparent.
This clarity helps employees understand what to expect and promotes a sense of fairness.
5. Encourage empathy and understanding
While empathy and understanding may be fifth on this list, it is essential right out of the gate. Be sure to foster an inclusive workplace by providing training on diversity and inclusion. This helps employees develop empathy and a better understanding of varying viewpoints.
By taking a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion, companies foster an open-minded work environment where people of varying backgrounds and identities are valued.
It is important to value listening skills, an open mind that accepts different viewpoints, and a willingness to find common ground.
Research by Greatplacetowork.com found that employees at diverse companies are:
- 9.8 times more likely to look forward to going to work
- 6.3 times more likely to have pride in their work, and
- 5.4 times more likely to want to stay a long time at their company.
Be sure to establish programs that pair employees for peer support. Having a colleague to talk to can enhance understanding and empathy, creating a support system within the workplace.
6. Mediation and neutral third parties
While it’s important for managers to know how to resolve conflicts, it’s also vital to know when to call a third party for help.
For example, a long-simmering conflict may require a neutral third party. Sometimes, the manager simply doesn’t want to be the one delivering a difficult message. Or there may be a conflict where a great imbalance of power exists.
These are instances where a conflict facilitator can make a huge positive impact via negotiation or arbitration.
Neutral third parties can be beneficial because:
- The third party doesn’t carry the emotional baggage the employees have.
- As an outsider, the third party can ask questions that won’t seem “loaded,” since the facilitator generally has been separate from the conflict.
- The third party can bring special insight and expertise to aid in decision-making to resolve a situation.
- The third party also brings neutrality to the situation, and that lowers the emotional level of the discussion, so it doesn’t feel so much like a “complaint.”
Employees deeply embroiled in a conflict may believe they have a thorough understanding of the situation, when in reality they may have a very limited perspective. Approaches taken by an experienced mediator can open up new ways to view the situation and help people recognize a new and better solution than they had first considered.
7. Continuous monitoring and evaluation
It’s a good idea to regularly assess your workplace for potential conflict triggers.
Simple things like onboarding a new hire, changing job assignments, promoting someone, or adjusting work schedules or workflow can create opportunity for clashes.
A proactive manager works closely with human resources to spot and address issues before they escalate.
After you have worked to resolve a conflict, be sure to collect regular feedback from the impacted employees about the effectiveness of conflict resolution strategies.
Then, use that feedback to refine and improve the process for the next time.
Experienced managers know conflicts can crop up in an instant, so they appreciate the value of heading off conflicts before this happens. But you can’t always prevent conflict. You must watch for it, spot it and address it. Conflict resolution is an easier task in a workplace that’s already been built on trust, respect and empathy for one another. And conflict resolution in the workplace is a great place to focus a manager’s energy, since conflict reduction can lead to increased employee productivity, greater motivation and loyalty, lower medical costs, fewer workers’ comp claims, and lower absenteeism and turnover.