How to avoid conflict in the workplace

Tension in the office can be resolved before it becomes severe or even before it starts

How to avoid conflict in the workplace

Studies have shown that 25% of HR professionals spend more than 10% of their time dealing with one form of conflict or another, according to Thomas International’s head of psychology, Lize Van der Watt.

The net result of this lag on productivity? It adds up to a significant loss of 23.5 productive days per year.

“Conflict is problematic and needs to be addressed in order to have peace, productivity and harmony,” said Van der Watt.

She added that there are multiple reasons why conflict arises in the workplace, and these are “well known due to their frequency”.

“The most common factors that contribute to conflict are differences in personality or styles of working, thus supporting a relational view of conflict,” said Van der Watt.

“Similarly, when people perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns as a result of a disagreement, conflict will occur.”

Other well-known causes of conflict include poor communication skills, differences in expectations and methodologies, failure to deal with the tension, dissimilarity regarding moral values, triggering of fears and negative emotions that lead to anger.

These contributing factors may be easy to spot but there are also numerous additional and covert causes.

“Managers and staff need to be sensitised to lesser known causes of conflict,” said Van der Watt.

These include an absence of trust, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and lack of attention to results.

She said that these factors have the potential to erupt into an argument or cause deep seated dissatisfaction with one’s job or role - both in their immediate team and in the organisation as a whole.

The danger of these contributors lies in the fact that they are not familiar predictors of conflict and therefore more difficult to spot, added Van der Watt.

If they know what to look for, managers, leaders and team members can predict a conflict situation.

“By spotting these early indicators, conflict can be resolved before it becomes severe or even before it starts. These early indicators are inter alia lack of respect, disputes, lack of co-operation, blaming and failing to relate to each other as individuals in a healthy way,” said Van der Watt.

However, conflict in the workplace can sometimes be unavoidable or even inevitable.

Van der Watt added that unresolved conflict can have devastating effects on individuals, the people around them and their ability to function effectively.

“It can also prevent us from being able to take advantage of the potential unexpected opportunities that can arise from conflict.”


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