We Can All Get Along: 5 Tips for Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

The result of conflict and stress is a lack of productivity, increased employee absenteeism, and eventually increased turnover.

Conflict is an unavoidable part of our organizations and workplaces. In fact, current research indicates that 85 percent of workers experience workplace conflict.

Of those workers, 31 percent feel stressed out during the day. The result of this conflict and stress is a lack of productivity, increased employee absenteeism, and eventually increased turnover.

How can American workers be happy and productive in their jobs when they are currently spending 2.8 hours every week dealing with conflict?

There is little doubt that workplace conflict is a major workplace issue that needs to be effectively addressed by organizational leaders.  

Unfortunately, many current business leaders are not equipped with the experience and skills necessary to deal with the prevalence of conflict in their workplaces and organizations.

These leaders do not have the communication ability to facilitate the resolution of conflict. Many even suffer from communication apprehension when dealing with situations involving conflict. All of these factors lead to the inadequate resolution or avoidance of workplace conflict.  

The worst thing a leader can do is avoid dealing with conflict. When conflict is avoided it is allowed to escalate and develop into other issues. Workplace conflict can be the root cause of a number of problems like absenteeism and turnover.

This is why any conflict needs to be quickly addressed and adequately resolved in order to maintain a positive work environment. The following five tips will help business leaders to more effectively deal with conflict in their workplaces:  

1. Set Expectations for Acceptable Behavior

Do not just assume that employees will understand what is acceptable and what is not. It is never good to assume. They need a clear definition. For example, they need to understand that workplace bullying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. This may seem obvious, yet only 28 percent of workers who experience bullying at work take any action against it.

Organizations are clearly failing in setting expectations for workplace bullying and following through with consequences once it occurs. This sends the wrong message and increases the chances of conflict occurring. It is important that very clear expectations of behavior are set and those standards are constantly reinforced.  

2. Be Proactive

The biggest secret to conflict resolution is to prevent conflict from occurring in the first place. That is why setting clear expectations of acceptable behavior is so important. You should also attempt to seek out areas of potential conflict and intervene before any conflict ever occurs. This can stop conflict from arising in the first place. It also will most likely lessen the severity and length of any conflict that actually does occur. You should seek to understand the natural tensions that occur in your workplace and learn how they can best be minimized or eliminated.

For example, if you know that the marketing department does not interact well with the accounting department, that could potentially lead to conflict. A good leader will recognize this and take steps to build a positive relationship between the departments. Being proactive with conflict is always time and effort well spent.  

3. Remember the WIIFM Factor

WIIFM stands for “What’s In It For Me.” This is a critical factor whenever a leader is dealing with employee conflict. WIIFM is really what employees tend to care about the most. They want to know how things affect them personally and what they have to lose or gain. This is also a key factor in their motivation.

When you clearly communicate benefits to employees there is less possibility of conflict. You will also be in a better position to resolve conflict when it arises. When you know what motivates your employees you will better understand the best tactics to help facilitate and resolve their conflicts.  

4. Choose Your Time Wisely

Timing is everything. While it is important not to let conflict linger, you also do not want to try to resolve conflict when tempers are still elevated. Sometimes it is better to speak with people individually while you let things cool down. People who are upset do not always make rational decisions.

By engaging two employees in a mediation session before they are both ready you might unintentionally be escalating the conflict. The goal is to successfully resolve the issue and in order to achieve this, all parties need to be on the same page. They must be ready to address the core issues in a calm manner. If this cannot happen, you might need to ask yourself if there is a better time to attempt to resolve the conflict.  

5. Conflict Can Be an Opportunity

Always remember that within every conflict lies the potential for an opportunity. You should look at every conflict as an opportunity for learning and growth. Sometimes disagreement and conflict, when handled correctly, can even be healthy. You should look to leverage conflict to help with team building and learning. This can be done at the organizational or individual employee level.

Ask yourself and your team: What larger lessons can be learned from this conflict? How can we use those lessons to prevent future conflicts? You might find that by asking the right questions you can create internal innovation and improve the workplace. Smart leaders are always looking for ways to ensure that every situation has a positive outcome and affect on the organization.  

As you can see, workplace conflict can be very damaging to organizations if leaders do not learn to address it properly. With over 80 percent of workers experiencing workplace conflict, and devoting a few hours every week to dealing with it, conflict is clearly a major workplace issue. Leaders should follow the five tips outlined here to help their organizations avoid conflict and more effectively resolve conflict once it arises. Communication is always the key.

As a leader, you should never let your apprehension to communicate cause you to avoid dealing with conflict. Remember, within every conflict, there is an opportunity for learning and growth. You should always leverage every conflict to improve your workplace and create a more positive working environment for your employees.

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