Written by: Daniel Goodson // Oct 13, 2020
Last updated: Oct 13, 2020
Let’s face it: Workplace disagreements are never fun. When those disagreements boil into overt conflict, though, they become downright excruciating. Unchecked conflict can rob your team of its morale, destroy productivity, and create permanent workplace rifts.
We’re helping you address this touchy office topic with our five tips for conflict resolution in the workplace. Whether you manage a large department in a major organization or a small team in a startup, you need to have the tools to resolve the inevitable conflicts that will arise.
5. Decide if It’s Worth Addressing Right Now
Pick your battles. Not all workplace conflicts require you to formally address them, particularly if the discord is the result of such unusual circumstances that it may never occur again. In other cases, the conflict may naturally resolve itself through a change in employment, workplace roles, or job responsibilities. Oftentimes, though, the conflict just isn’t that important, particularly if you have a tight-knit team with a history of working through similar issues.
Whatever the case, a great first step is deciding whether you need to address the source of workplace conflict at all. Note that this is not license to avoid addressing the issue. It’s simply a suggestion to weigh the severity of the issue, the relationships of the employees involved, and the likelihood of a repeat incident before deciding whether to take action.
There’s no reason to pour salt in the wound if the issue is no longer relevant, relatively insignificant, not indicative of deeper issues, or does not foreshadow future problems. Later, after emotions have calmed, you can revisit the conflict and talk through future solutions.
4. Address Conflict Quickly and Directly
Decide that you have a serious skirmish on your hands? One of the worst things you can do is let this major conflict go unaddressed and fester. What may start out as a single issue could balloon into an all-out workplace war that draws in other colleagues. Worse yet, the root cause of the issue may become buried in retaliatory acts, heightened emotions, and frayed workplace relationships. Addressing the conflict early maximizes the chances that bridges can be mended and everyone can move past the issue.
Like delaying when you address the conflict, it’s important to avoid the temptation to beat around the bush and not name the issue. This only leads to confusion and opens the door for your employees to form their own interpretations of how leadership views the conflict – which is never a good scenario when tensions are high. Instead, directly address the conflict and clearly establish how you will progress as a team.
3. Set Clear Ground Rules
Sometimes workplace conflict is the natural result of ambiguity. If your company hasn’t explicitly codified and modeled appropriate behaviors and communication, how can you expect your employees to know what’s right and wrong?
By setting clear workplace rules, you help prevent those nasty office squabbles. Here are a few strategies to ensure everyone knows the expectations:
- Define everyone's role and responsibilities.
- Develop a clear chain of command.
- Encourage positive communication practices and team building.
- Write down and publicly display your rules and expectations.
2. Avoid Assigning Blame
This is a tough one to master, but it’s important. Even if you feel one party is primarily in the wrong, don’t pile the fault on them. Instead try to work with both sides to help each understand what they did wrong and how to avoid the conflict in the future.
In the best-case scenario after assigning blame, one of the parties may feel vindicated while the other will feel betrayed, ostracized, and ready to jump ship at the next career opportunity. Worse still, you’ll probably alienate all other employees who sided with the party that you deemed as being in the wrong.
You can also avoid unintended consequences of the blame game by sticking to the facts. Although you may feel tempted to pull in patterns of behavior that may have contributed to the conflict, it’s important to stick to the issue at hand. If there are other recurring issues, don’t muddy this particular session of conflict resolution. Save those other personal issues for another time where you can meet one-on-one.
1. Consider the Conflict a Learning Opportunity
It may sound hokey, and it may be the last thing you want to hear during a bitter dispute, but it pays to view workplace conflict as an opportunity to learn. By its very definition, conflict is showing you what isn’t working and where to focus your efforts to improve. If there wasn’t something to improve, there’d probably be no conflict in the first place.
Instead of shying away from the turbulence, lean in and engage in deep reflection. You can start by asking yourself some probing questions:
- Do I have a process issue?
- Do I have a personnel issue?
- Do I have a leadership issue?
- What can I learn from this strife?
- How can this inspire innovation?
These questions may be difficult to ask and even harder to answer. However, they can lead you to some profound realizations that don’t just improve your workplace — they totally transform your business.
Strengthening Your Company Starts With Your Employees
Questions about how to resolve conflict, increase efficiency, or transform your team? Learn more about USF’s human resources courses that are designed to help you deal with workplace challenges like employee conflict. Whether you want to distinguish yourself as an HR expert, fill any gaps in your skill set, or stay up to date in the field, our programs can help.