Learn what's essential in resolving workplace conflict
In any organization, conflict is inevitable and should never be ignored. However, before taking any steps to resolve it, it’s essential to know its causes and effects first.
What are the major causes of workplace conflict?
Here are the things that trigger conflict among employees, according to the Houston Chronicle:
Poor communication can be the result of a difference in communication styles. Failure to communicate may cause employees to make wrong assumptions and believe in gossip. Poor communication not only causes conflict; it also decreases productivity and employee morale.
Employees have different backgrounds and experiences, which play a role in shaping their personalities. When employees fail to accept or understand the differences in each other’s personalities, that’s when problems arise.
Different work styles and values
A difference in values is seen when there’s a generational gap. Young workers may possess different values than their older colleagues. The difference in values is not necessarily the cause of workplace conflict – it’s the failure to accept that difference. When employees fail to accept their differences, they may insult one another.
Unhealthy workplace competition
Some industries cultivate competitive environments more than others. When salary is linked to employee production, an organization may experience strong competition between its employees. A competition that’s not managed correctly can result in employees sabotaging one another, which creates a hostile work environment. This unhealthy competition discourages teamwork and promotes individualism.
What are the effects of conflict in an organization?
Unresolved conflicts often produce negative results, regardless of whether the conflict is between two individuals, between staff and leadership, or among workplace teams. Here are the negative effects of conflict, according to Bizfluent:
Employees stop working or stay home
Unresolved conflict threatens that psychological safety inside an organization. Psychological safety in the workplace means that employees feel comfortable taking risks for their team’s success and that they don’t feel that they will be disciplined or berated for taking those risks.
Whereas when workplace conflict exists, people are typically defensive and feel the need to protect themselves for fear that they will be disciplined or punished for their actions. Individually, conflict can result in the absence of psychological safety, which can then lead to poor performance and job dissatisfaction. Organization-wide, the effects may be absenteeism, reduced productivity, and lack of employee engagement.
Customers receive a poor service
Conflict can ultimately cause an organization’s customer base to deteriorate. Employees who are in conflict with each other may spend more time finding ways to argue their point or fight back instead of focusing on the quality of their work. Poor quality – be it a product or service – will send customers to a competitor. Moreover, customers who sense conflict may leave with the impression that the company is not a good place to work. That impression might call the organization’s principles into question.
Company reputation gets damaged
Companies that fail to resolve conflict or turn a blind eye when a conflict exists are putting their organization’s reputation at risk. An organization with a poor reputation, in turn, can’t recruit talented and motivated job candidates, and current employees will likely not dispel industry gossip by showing that they are proud to be part of the organization.
Disputes eat into the bottom line
Workplace conflict is expensive to resolve but costlier to ignore. When employees or groups of employees are already seeking legal remedies, hiring lawyers to represent the company’s interests can be a potential expense that has a severe impact on the organization’s financial standing.
Settling claims to avoid costly litigation can also reduce the organization’s profits. The distraction and loss of productivity on the part of employees who are supporting the legal case incur expenses that are hard to quantify but impact the company’s bottom line.
How do you resolve workplace conflict?
Here are some tips to turn conflict into consensus between feuding employees, according to Insperity:
Understand the conflict’s nature
It’s often tempting to assume about conflict, especially if rumors are circulating. However, never assume anything. Instead, figure out what fuels the disagreement between employees. Looking into what’s at the heart of the matter is essential to resolving the issue successfully.
Encourage employees to work it out themselves
Employees should be as self-sufficient as possible. Keep in mind that reacting to every worker’s complaint might make the situation worse. Doing so could even cause some employees to think that you are showing favoritism.
However, encouraging employees to manage issues on their own doesn’t mean that you won't need to facilitate, especially if you have employees who tend to avoid confrontation. Don’t set the expectation that you will fix the problem for them. Instead, provide guidance or talking points, if needed, to help each employee approach the other party in a positive manner.
Conflict resolution doesn’t necessarily need to end in agreement. Sometimes, it’s best to agree to disagree. When that happens, employees should recognize a difference of opinion or approach and formulate a solution together on how to move forward.
Resolve the conflict quickly
Unfortunately, some situations will not work on their own, and you will be forced to step in. When that happens, get to the root of the problem. Make it clear that all employees, regardless of position and tenure, will be held accountable for their behavior. Let them know that if established standards are not met, it could lead to disciplinary action.
Listen to both sides
When it’s time to get involved, start by dismissing any gossip that may be circulating in the office, and don’t easily believe in what you hear. Instead, deal with the parties directly involved in the incident and mind other staff members later. Most employees want to feel listened to, so ask each person responsible to explain their (fact-based) side of the story.
Before deciding whether to meet with the disagreeing parties separately or together, try to evaluate the degree of hostility between them. If you find that speaking to them together is the best option, give each one of them uninterrupted time to tell their side. Once all employees have had their say, ask each of them to suggest ideas on how to resolve the situation and how all parties could move forward.
For conflict resolution to be successful, your company should train supervisors and managers to coach employees in this area.
Consult your employee handbook
Reviewing relevant policies in your employee handbook may shed light on the best way to solve the problem. Sticking to the common ground rules can be a practical way to reach fair conflict resolution. Don’t let an employee slide when they have gone against the rules, as it will weaken your authority and cause resentment in the ranks.
Set an example
Building a culture of engaged employees who respect each other and work well together is a top-down proposition. By talking to your employees honestly and respectfully, you will create an environment that fosters integrity and communication. When you are open and honest, employees are more likely to follow suit.
Much of your company culture depends on your employees' interaction with one another. Leading by example becomes almost automatic when you reinforce and uphold your company’s values, policies, and guidelines objectively. You will build company-wide trust by not expecting anything from your employees that you don’t require of yourself.
Aside from these things, HR should avoid some common mistakes. Conflict resolution expert Phil Schibeci talks about the top HR no-no’s when navigating workplace conflict in an article titled “The secret to conflict resolution.”