Updated Nov. 18, 2021
When working with other humans, disagreements or differences of opinion are natural and common. In the end, the biggest factor that influences how conflict affects the workplace is the way managers, supervisors, and other leaders resolve it.
As issues arise, employees expect their leadership to step in and use their professional mediation skills to help peacefully and constructively resolve the conflict. Nevertheless, conflict resolution at work remains one of the biggest challenges managers and employees face. Most people would rather avoid addressing conflicts altogether, especially when matters such as racism, sexism, homophobia and other potential sources of bias arise. However, this can proliferate problems, brew long-term bitterness, and decrease the general morale and productivity of a workplace.
Instead of avoiding conflict, here are a few ways company leadership and employees can work together to handle opposition and disagreements on the job.
1. Use Effective Listening Skills
It’s common knowledge that humans can sometimes listen to others for the sole purpose of responding. However, that only leads to further miscommunication, confusion, and frustration. The alternative is to practice active listening.
According to information from UC San Diego, active listening involves a few important key components, including:
- Listen to what the other person is saying instead of preparing to react
- Avoid interrupting the other person
- When someone finishes speaking, rephrase what was said to ensure there is a common understanding
- Ask questions to clarify understanding
Active listening is critical to communication, which is the most important part of constructive conflict resolution at work.
2. Identify Points of Disagreement
As part of active listening, both parties should make an effort to identify the actual issue. When emotions get involved, it’s easy for humans to misplace frustration onto matters or actions that are trivial or wouldn’t bother them if it weren’t for some other root cause.
In order to effectively resolve conflict in the workplace, everyone involved must hone in on the specific behavior, miscommunication, or event that triggered the conflict. From there, they can identify appropriate solutions to address the actual issue.
3. Focus on Behavior, not Personality
Another useful tip for conflict resolution at work is to describe a specific instance or event that demonstrates a problem, rather than generalizing. It’s especially important not to make the conflict personal or focus on a personality trait, because that does not provide either party with actionable next steps, according to the Digital Project Manager.
For instance, employees and managers should try to express the source of their frustration by saying, “When this happens…” or “There was once when…” instead of using terms like “When you do…”. This helps prevent people from getting defensive and feeling personally attacked.
4. Develop a Plan
While workplace policies and procedures can occasionally feel cumbersome or restrictive, they are actually essential for creating a standardized framework for all employees to operate within.
In the same way, establishing guidelines for communicating, accomplishing tasks and having meetings helps everyone know what to expect, how to set boundaries, and detect when something is not happening as it should, according to an article by U.S. News and World Report.
Companies should also establish a process for handling feedback and disagreements. Like a rulebook for any sport or activity, it ensures everyone is on the same page and taking the appropriate actions.
5. View Conflict as an Opportunity
Most importantly, it is crucial not to be afraid of conflict. While there may be opportunities for managers and employees to be proactive and mitigate potential problems before they lead to conflict, the best option is to be prepared to face it head-on.
According to Forbes.com, with the right resolution skills and methods in place, conflict can be a valuable learning opportunity for all the parties involved. They may gain important insight into their coworkers, the company’s culture, and what is expected from them.
Cultivating mutual understanding and respect helps employees feel comfortable at work and better able to focus on their professional tasks, contributing to the business’ growth and progress.
How to Handle Conflicts in the Workplace
As uncomfortable or inconvenient as it may seem to address conflict in the workplace, it is essential for the health and sustainability of a business, along with accommodating morale among employees from a wide range of racial, gender, sexual identity and other backgrounds. However, it’s not easy to resolve conflict without the right tools.
Portland Community College’s Conflict Resolution course examines the types of conflict that commonly arise at work and how to best handle each one. These methods, in turn, lead to useful team-building and help organizations and their staff achieve higher productivity, integrity, and satisfaction at work.