Our personal lives are conflict-prone, and our workplace is no exception. The root cause of conflicts in the workplace often lies in the initially wrong assumption that other people interpret reality in the same way. When it comes to interaction with other human beings our sub-conscious starts judging the others by our own standards. Hence conflicts arise. And the enclosed environment of the workplace contributes.
We all know why conflicts happen. Be it inadequate leadership, cultural differences, shaky interdependency, different working styles or personal clashes – conflicts in the workplace come in all shapes and sizes. It is just a question of time for an issue to arise. Keeping this in mind a manager or an HR person should carefully monitor potentially critical situations when a conflict is likely to go out of hand. For example, when a conflict may cause personnel turnover, or it is affecting the morale of the whole team. The following steps may be of some help in the conflict resolution in the workplace.
Immediate measures for effective conflict resolution:
- Talk it over. You need them to negotiate in your presence. Physical face to face meeting is a preferable way, but video conversations are suitable for virtual teams. Set an exact time; make sure there are no unwanted witnesses.
- Determine in advance a time limit for an explanation monologue. Shorten it a bit, it will help everybody to remain constructive. No interruptions from the other side are allowed.
- Facilitate a constructive dialogue. Ask the sides to address each other directly, avoiding “he does this”, “she refuses that”, and so on. This will make the whole situation look less ridiculous, less like. Less stress for everyone’s self-esteem as a result.
- Paraphrase and repeat. Use this trick to cool down the atmosphere when needed. For example, original passage: “I can’t stand Ann and Mary debating every morning on the progress of that stupid sitcom series they are both addicted to, just by my desk”. Paraphrasing: “do I get it right, Nick, that your main requirement is no loud conversations at the desks in the office space?” Also, this technique might be of help for the conflict sides to realize what they are really trying to achieve.
- Apply active listening. If somebody seems to be ignoring the words of the opposite side, ask both to explain in their own way what was just heard from the opponent.
- Switch roles. For more effect ask them to change seats. This will work if you are in a dead end. Although unwillingness could be met here, persuade the sides in the necessity of this action. Afterward, they will come up to an understanding that it is not an easy task to contradict their own thoughts.
- Summarize it all up. Make sure nobody misheard the final conclusion.
General tips for conflict management and prevention:
- Weekly meetings. Everybody should have an opportunity to speak freely about the working process and the way it could be improved. Exchanging thoughts will help constructing a healthy atmosphere of mutual respect.
- Off-work activities. Team-building is always highly-praised, one of the positive outcomes is that team members are getting used to each other and start talking the same language.
- Setting an informal chat for internal use (great for large companies and virtual teams). Encourage employees to post some private pictures/stories. For some people, it is really less of a stress to start personal communication in this way.
In case you happen to be one of the sides involved in the conflict in the workplace directly, consider a couple of useful tips on how to manage it:
- Embrace a conflict and treat it as a problem that needs a solution. Ask yourself, what you are trying to achieve through the conflict? Is the aim productive and worth the trouble?
- Work out a strategy. Let go of emotion and approach the conflict with all your positive energy and creativity.
- Listen carefully and talk to the opponent. Make them see that you are working on the issue.
- Don’t hesitate to apologize and forgive. It is the only constructive way to fix everything and move on. You’ll see how liberating and heeling it is to acknowledge you were wrong and accept your opponent’s apologies.
To conclude, we must admit that conflicts occur regardless of our desire for the workplace peace. Unpleasant it is, but the true problem lies in those that are unresolved. Every conflict should be managed. And if you look on the bright side, you may turn conflicts in the workplace to an advantage. Effective conflict resolution can become a powerful tool for binding your team.