Conflict can happen anywhere and the workplace isn’t immune. It doesn’t matter what position you hold, you will no doubt encounter some type of conflict during your career.
It’s estimated that 30-50% of a manager’s time is dedicated to managing workplace conflict. Around 65% of performance problems result from strained relationships between employees.
Everyone deals with conflict differently. Some people embrace situations of conflict while others will do anything to avoid it. If you’re in a management role, don’t make the mistake of ignoring conflict that occurs between colleagues.
Unresolved conflict causes a range of issues that are expensive for the organisation including:
- poor productivity
- high absenteeism
- poor employee retention
- poor decision making
- low morale
By resolving organisational conflict, you’re more likely to retain outstanding employees and improve the bottom line.
Conflict in the Workplace
There’s no one right or wrong way to deal with conflict in the workplace but here are six tips for handling conflict.
#1 Appreciate We’re All Different
Not everyone thinks the same way you do. What might seem like a trivial matter to you, may mean far more to a colleague. Deal with all colleagues and conflict with respect. Making light of an issue won’t help the situation. Try to see if from the other person’s point of view. If you’re going to apologise, do so sincerely.
Remember others will judge you on your attitude and actions towards a conflict. You don’t want to have a reputation of being an uncaring manager or colleague who doesn’t respect another person’s opinion.
#2 Prevention is Better Than the Cure
If you think a decision or organisational change is going to cause conflict, address it before the change occurs. No one likes nasty surprises so be upfront with colleagues. Ask them to show resilience and leadership to work through the situation with a positive mindset. By being upfront and proactive with your employees you show you care and can avoid future conflict from occurring.
#3 Make Communications a Priority
Whether you’ve experienced it in your personal life or at work, a breakdown in communication often leads to conflict. In the workplace, good communication is key. Make sure everyone has an up to date job description and knows what’s expected of them. Meet regularly on both a team and individual basis.
You can also ask workers for their opinion or feedback in a confidential survey. Giving people a voice means they’re less inclined to buy into dissent and add to conflict in the workplace. Make the anonymous results available and show what action you intend to take to improve the situations people identified. Tell colleagues your door is always open if they need to talk about anything and let people know the importance you place on communication at work- then make sure you make yourself available should a colleague need to talk.
#4 Don’t Think of All Conflict Negatively
Dealing with conflict isn’t usually pleasant but it can provide positive opportunities. If you’re a manager investigating an issue, you may gain valuable insight into your colleagues. Discussions may give you information about their background, training opportunities or parts of the role they’re passionate about. When you investigate conflict, you’re finding out more about the people behind it.
If you’re new at dealing with workplace conflict (either your own or your colleagues), it may be an opportunity to develop your negotiation skills, learn to compromise, gain life experience and improve your confidence and leadership skills. Sometimes a negative event leads to a positive outcome, so it doesn’t hurt to look for the silver lining to what is usually a negative scenario.
#5 Make Sure Staff Know What’s Expected
Not everyone in the workplace has the same opinion on what is acceptable behaviour. Workplaces are a melting pot of employees with different ages, backgrounds, cultures, ambitions and personality types. These factors can all impact staff behaviour.
For a person who is often involved in conflict with family and friends, they may not even realise when they cause conflict at work. Humour can also cause conflict because it’s very individual. What one finds funny in their personal life, may cause offence in the workplace. It’s best to inform everyone in writing of the behaviour that is and isn’t acceptable at work and address any examples of employees failing to maintain the standard. For most it will be common sense, but not all.
#6 Deal with Conflict Quickly
Conflict is often described as an iceberg - you only see the tip, not the 90% of the problem that lies below the waterline. Taking a ‘wait and see’ approach is risky because you don’t know how long the conflict has already been going for. The longer conflict continues, the more damage it does to the organisation and the people within. Dealing with it quickly can help you prevent any issues from escalating further.
Help is Available
No one is born resolving conflict but it may feel like some mastered the skill in childhood. At work, they know what to say and do to ensure conflict doesn’t escalate.
You might feel like you procrastinate and struggle with handling difficult situations. A lack of action affects the organisation’s employees, culture, the bottom line and the opinion others have of you. If you find it difficult to handle conflict, getting a professional with no existing biases can help to mediate the situation.
If you need help with managing conflict in the workplace, call PeopleSense by Altius on 1300 307 912 or contact us online.