Dealing With Conflict in the Workplace

by Thom Tracy

2 min read

At its best, conflict feeds creativity by drawing out opposing ideas that turn into imaginative solutions. At its worst, conflict creates tension, gets in the way of collaboration, and reduces productivity. Although your business can benefit from the exchange of differing opinions and innovative ideas, it can also be hurt by simmering arguments that lower morale. Knowing how to deal with conflict is a necessary skill for keeping your employees happy and keeping your business running efficiently.

Human Behavior and Common Causes of Workplace Conflict

To avoid a toxic work environment, you have to prevent and resolve conflicts that wear down employees. Although there’s a long list of events that incite conflict, flawed communications and high emotions consistently top the list. You don’t have to look any further than “Romeo and Juliet” to know that miscommunication can be disastrous. Collaboration is essential in the workplace, so everyone needs to be on the same page, and communications need to be clear and complete. Incorrect instructions can cause frustrations that turn into disputes, and unclear memos can create misunderstandings that generate bad feelings. Part of successful conflict management involves delivering crystal-clear and complete information in a timely manner. Careless comments and snide remarks can trigger clashes fueled by emotions. The battle is on once a conflict becomes personal. Emotionally escalating arguments are difficult to resolve because anger becomes the focal point instead of the reasons behind the conflict. Establishing rules of behavior and enforcing penalties for non-compliance helps to prevent emotionally charged conflicts.

Be Proactive About Conflict Prevention

Your employees spend a lot of time together. They probably get on each other’s nerves from time to time – conflict is part of the human condition. You can’t eliminate clashes of opinions, but you can anticipate problems and avoid escalating arguments. If you’re planning an open-table discussion about a contentious issue, you can expect some heated conversation. Prepare for it and keep it under control by laying out the rules of conduct and moderating in a calm manner.

Act Quickly Before Emotions Take Over

When conflicts arise, take action right away. Ongoing arguments cause tension and create an uncomfortable work environment for everyone, not just the people involved in the conflict. Unresolved differences can turn into grudges and resentments that drain energy, cripple productivity, and drive away employees. By intervening early and not giving frustration the time to ramp up into anger, you have a better chance of defusing the situation and keeping your business on track.

Establish a Process for Conflict Resolution

A conflict-resolution plan provides your employees with a venue for airing complaints and gives you a framework for resolving disputes fairly and professionally. When people get together and listen actively, they develop enough understanding of the other side to move forward and work for the common good. A simple plan that involves addressing the conflict and brainstorming for a mutually satisfactory solution gets people talking, clears the air, and encourages the spirit of cooperation.

References & Resources

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