Dealing with Workplace Conflict
Let's face it: workplace conflict is and will be a constant. In fact, HR managers report spending 24-60% of their time dealing with employee disputes. This is because people react to and manage conflict at work very differently. For instance, three people in the same situation may have three distinctly different reactions. And to make matters more complicated, not only do people act differently in workplace conflict, but the same person may respond one way in one situation and react another way in a separate situation. How someone reacts can depend on the kind of conflict, who is involved, and whether the issue is personal or professional. While disagreements and differing opinions are normal and even healthy in work relationships, continuing conflict can eventually result in lost productivity, money and, lowered employee morale.
What can you do to resolve workplace feuds?
- Choose your battles. How important is the argument really? Does it truly affect you or your team? Is it a chronic problem? If it's a one-time incident, it's probably a good idea to just let it go.
- Expect it. Come to terms that conflict will occasionally emerge in any work environment – even the perfect ones where all employees are best-ies with each other. Don't fear confrontation; instead, learn to spot the symptoms early on and see opportunity for growth in the resolution.
- Use neutral language. Avoid judgmental remarks or sweeping generalizations, such as, "you always turn your reports in late". Instead, use calm, neutral language to describe what is bothering you: "I get very frustrated when I can't access your reports because it causes us to miss our deadlines". Be respectful and sincere, never sarcastic.
- Focus on the problem, not the person. Avoid retreating to the safety of withdrawal, avoidance or the simplistic view that your co-worker is a "bad person". These are defense mechanisms that prevent the resolution of conflict. Focus on actions and consequences instead of attacking or putting the other person on the defensive.
- Actively listen. Take the time to understand what the other person is saying; don't interrupt him. Let him know you understand by restating or rephrasing his statement or position so he knows you have truly heard him.
- Be accountable for yourself. When conflict arises without resolution, ask to be held accountable. This might bring your performance review into play, but does so without taking away your responsibility for resolving the conflict. This may be hard to do but remarkable change can happen when you are held to the task.
The fact that conflict exists is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as it is resolved effectively, it can lead to personal and professional growth. By resolving conflict successfully, you can solve many of the problems that it has brought to the surface, as well as getting benefits that you might not expect:
- Increased understanding. The discussion needed to resolve conflict expands people's awareness of the situation, giving them an insight into how they can achieve their own goals without undermining those of other people.
- Increased group cohesion. When conflict is resolved effectively, team members can develop stronger mutual respect, and a renewed faith in their ability to work together.
- Improved self-knowledge. Conflict pushes individuals to examine their goals in close detail, helping them understand the things that are most important to them, sharpening their focus, and enhancing their effectiveness.
Workplace conflict, by nature, is difficult. The good news is that you have a large arsenal of resources available to you to handle it. At the simplest level, you can either choose to remove yourself from the situation or you can face the conflict head on and set a good example for others. The latter is the harder yet more productive choice. Small steps in this area can lead to giant leaps toward healthier work environments.