Whether you work for a small business or a large corporation, a certain amount of conflict in the workplace is inevitable. While there is no way to prevent 100% of conflicts, there are some things you can do to mitigate conflict and take control of the situation.
Handling workplace conflict is a management leadership skill that everyone should learn regardless of seniority. It involves developing communication skills and emotional intelligence and problem solving. To help keep your workplace tension-free, here are five things you can do to manage workplace conflict.
Understand and the define the problem
The first step in solving any problem is awareness. You can’t expect to find a solution to a puzzle without first understanding it.
Consequently, it’s a good idea to face conflict head-on as opposed to sweeping it under the rug. Addressing it directly will give you a better sense of the nature of the conflict. Did the problem arise due to a miscommunication? Is it to do with the actual work or is it more to do with personality clashes? What departments are involved? How will it affect the business?
One way to do this is to talk to your team members individually. Understand their point of view and cross reference it with the perspectives of their colleagues. Ask them how it has impacted their productivity and morale in the workplace.
Use this information to find the root of the issue. Only after you have identified the problem can you start to look for solutions.
Allow team members to express their thoughts and feelings
Unfortunately, it’s likely that some of your colleagues will not be forthcoming about their thoughts and feelings. This is because most people would rather avoid direct confrontations even if it means letting an issue persist. As a leader, or even just as a fellow team member, it’s important to create an environment where people can express themselves. Assure them that it’s okay to feel upset in the workplace and to express frustrations in a healthy and constructive way.
Once your team is comfortable opening up, you will be able to gain further insight into the conflict. This will give you an even better idea on how to resolve it. While it’s important to stay professional in the office, you can’t ignore the role of emotions in our work lives. In order to manage conflict properly, you have to address employees’ human side. Emotions must be expressed and then controlled before you can apply a logical solution.
Communicate and find common ground
Communication and empathy are huge when it comes to conflict resolution.If you can’t properly communicate with your team, you will never come to a peaceful conclusion. Too often, work communication consists of quick phone calls, blurry video calls and brief emails. Digital communication can often prevent you from picking up non-verbal communication cues like body language, eye contact, gestures and intonation. This can lead to a great deal of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Ideally, you want to talk to your team in person as much as possible. If you have to communicate via email or phone call, be as clear as possible. Also, don’t assume that they understand something. Ask them if they need something repeated or expanded on.
Additionally, it’s important to find common ground on an issue. This will bring the team closer together and minimise the tension. The easiest way to find common ground is to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and go from there. It doesn’t matter how small it is either.
By finding common ground, your team will be more cooperative when it comes to finally finding solutions.
Determine a clear solution
The most important thing when it comes to coming up with a solution is clarity. Make sure you define it properly so that everyone is on the same page.
For example, you might want to define what behaviour is acceptable in the workplace. Many companies have training programs and various resources that help workers understand what is and isn’t allowed in the office. This often includes posters, powerpoint presentations, online training modules, reminder emails and weekly meetings.
If the conflict is exclusive to only a few team members, make sure to talk to them individually. Regardless of how uncomfortable it might be, you may have to tell someone that they’re at fault. When doing this, make sure to reassure them that you’re there to support them.
Finally, make sure you follow up with the involved parties after a few weeks. This will give you an idea of how well your solution has worked. Usually, by this time, emotions would have subsided and things become a bit clearer.
If the problem persists, you have to find another solution or, if necessary, seek the help of an outside facilitator.
Unfortunately, things aren’t always going to be smooth sailing. Regardless of what field you work in, it’s a good idea to be prepared for workplace conflict. Expect many things to disrupt your productivity and be prepared to face them.
If you feel that you’re not naturally adept to handling confrontations in the workplace, there are plenty of leadership programs and project management courses available locally and online. It’s important to see problem-solving as a learnable skill as opposed to a natural ability.