There’s no doubt about it – conflict is uncomfortable. It can create tension and anxiety in the workplace and if left unchecked, can bring an organization to a grinding halt. If you are like many people, you avoid conflict in your daily work life because you have seen the destructive impact it can create. If you are a supervisor, you may find that you spend too much of your valuable time mediating disputes between co-workers.
One of the toughest aspects of leadership is the ability to deal with people issues. Organization leaders are responsible for creating a work environment that enables people to thrive. When disagreements and differences of opinions escalate into interpersonal conflict, you must intervene immediately. If you value your organization and want to maintain a positive work environment, you have no other option.
For most, conflict in the workplace is inevitable. It is generally the result of disagreement over needs or goals, and can result in negative behaviors such as gossip and hostility. Unresolved conflict can lead to individuals focusing on the problems rather than solutions. In turn, this redirection of focus can result in reduced productivity and a slump in creativity and innovation.
It would be foolish to believe that the only people affected by conflict are the participants. Everyone in your organization can be affected by the stress created from unresolved conflict. It would also be foolish to believe that the conflict will simply go away if you avoid it long enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if the conflict appears to have been put to rest, it will rear its ugly head whenever stress increases or a new disagreement occurs.
Conflict can be beneficial because it forces people to look at a situation that requires attention. The problem is most people don’t know how to participate in and manage work conflict in a positive way. While it can rarely be prevented, its escalation can be contained and its negative impact minimized. The following tips can help you manage and resolve workplace conflict effectively and efficiently.
1. Determine the cause. You can’t resolve the conflict until you determine the cause. Gather as much information as you can. Arrange a meeting and inform all parties involved in the conflict that they will have an opportunity to air their grievances. Create an environment that is quiet and private, than allow each party to express their point of view. This should be a short discussion so that everyone is clear about the disagreement and conflicting views. The purpose of the meeting is to make sure all parties clearly understand the viewpoint of others.
2. Focus on finding a solution. To reach an agreement that is satisfactory to everyone, it’s important to listen to the needs and wants of all parties involved in the conflict, than focus on finding a solution. After all, if one party “wins,” that means the other party “loses.” When people feel their needs have been ignored or that they have “lost the battle” they tend to harbor resentment and may even sabotage your project or relationship. Build a discussion that is positive and powerful for all and results in everyone feeling as if they are winners.
3. Provide choices. People feel empowered when they are involved in the decision making process. Ask questions, seek solutions and come up with a plan to resolve the conflict as a team.
4. Continue communication. Once you have arrived at a solution for the conflict, develop a communication plan to follow-up on the situation. This might include meeting one-on-one with the involved parties, or through inner-office memos or email. If the problem continues to exist, go back to the first three steps.
5. Implement solutions. Once a decision has been made, it is important for you to be assertive in the implementation of that decision. When you are challenged (and you will be), you must remain calm and be confident in the knowledge that you have done the best you can to resolve the situation. Be consistent in seeking solutions and stand behind your final decision.
Handling workplace conflict is never easy but it is necessary if you want to be perceived as a strong leader capable of producing results. If you avoid conflict, you are setting yourself up for failure. If you handle conflict straight on, you will earn the respect of your peers and staff.