What, How & Action of Workplace Conflict

Workplace conflict is always a popular topic to discuss, but one that is sometimes is left untouched. I know people are making money teaching principles of dealing with workplace conflict. Fact – When people work together there will always be conflict. It is part of doing business. Fact – Conflict can not be avoided. It all centers on how you approach the conflict. From my over 30 years managing workplace teams, I have seen my share of conflicts and have developed my best known method of dealing with it. I want to share those thoughts and tactics with you.

From my experiences, there are many reasons for conflict but overall there are some primary causes that I want to point out.

  • Poor Communication: There are many different communication styles which can lead to misunderstandings between employees or between employee and manager. Sometimes there is even a lack of communication which usually drives conflict “underground”.
  • Different Values: The workplace is made up of individuals, each one of those individuals sees the world differently. We all come with our own set of core values. We all know we should values each ones differences, but… Conflict occurs when there is a lack of acceptance and/or understanding of these differences.
  • Differing Interests or Agenda’s: The one agenda that everyone should follow is the organizations, but we are human and have our own as well. Conflict occurs when individual workers ‘fight’ for their personal goals, over the organizational goals and organizational well-being.
  • Personality Clashes: All work environments are made up of differing personalities. Unless colleagues understand and accept each other’s approach to work and problem-solving, conflict will occur.
  • Poor Performance: There will be one or more individuals within a team that are not performing – not working up to potential – and if this is not addressed, conflict is inevitable.

There are primary five ways to address workplace conflict:

  • Avoidance: Hoping that conflict will go away.
  • Collaboration: Working together to find a mutually beneficial solution.
  • Compromise: Finding the middle ground.
  • Competing: May the “best” person win.
  • Accommodation: Surrendering our own needs and wishes to please the other person.

For most, they would work towards collaboration or compromise to get a more successful working together relationship. The others really don’t solve the conflict in most cases they could easily escalate the situation further.

The goals is to get to a successful resolution of the conflict. From my experiences, you must make sure to do the following:

  • Clearly articulate the causes of the conflict – openly acknowledging there will be differing perceptions of the problem(s).
  • Make a clear statement of why you want the conflict resolved and reasons to work on conflict.
  • Communication of how you want the conflict resolved.
  • Address the issues face-to-face (notes, email correspondence, memos are not a productive way to resolve differences). If your team members do not happen to be in the same location, at the very least use video conferencing to make sure that everyone “sees” each other.
  • Stick to the issues. Many times the discussion will get derailed to “other” items, name calling or someone else said. Watch closely for that and make sure to circle back to just way you all are here.
  • Take time out if necessary.  In the resolution of a conflict, emotions may interfere with arriving at that productive resolution. If this happens, take a time-out and resume resolving the conflict at another designated time.

Conflict will happen! Avoiding conflict is often the easiest way to deal with it. It does not however make it go away but rather pushes it underground, only to have it resurface in a new form. By actively resolving conflict when it occurs, you can create a more positive work environment for everyone.