In a study conducted by the American Management Association, supervisors spend on average 24% of their day managing conflict in the workplace. This can be a conflict that the supervisor is directly involved in or conflict between coworkers that the supervisor must get under control before it becomes an issue.
In this article I will be providing information and tips to manage conflict in the workplace and not let it get out of control.
What is Conflict Management in the Workplace?
The purpose of managing conflict in the workplace is not to avoid all conflict. Some conflict is good for fostering ideas. Everyone in your work center will have their own ideas and opinions and you don’t want them to not share them just to avoid conflict. You want to help them express their ideas without fostering excessive conflict.
So what is conflict management in the workplace? Managing conflict in the workplace is about keeping the conflict in the healthy range and not allowing your employees to get into pointless arguments. As a leader, you should facilitate conflict resolution efficiently and peacefully.
While some conflict is healthy and can lead to great ideas and advancements, much of it is not beneficial. It’s important to be able to determine healthy workplace conflict as opposed to unhealthy workplace conflict.
Having employees constantly argue and not get along is bad for employee relations, production, and ultimately, the success of the team. Also, a conflict between two members typically affects more than just those two members of your team. Many times, other members of the team get dragged into the conflict. Therefore, managing conflict in the workplace must be a priority for a leader.
The most effective strategy for managing conflict in the workplace is to avoid it altogether but many times that is not possible and will sometimes hold the team back. Keep reading for reasons for conflict and strategies for managing conflict in the workplace.
Bell & Hart’s 8 Reasons for Conflict
Resources in the workplace can be anything from pencils to computers. Many times, these resources are limited. Conflict can happen when employees are trying to utilize the same resources.
Conflicting Resources Example
An example of conflicting resources could be something like employees arguing about needing to use a computer when no other computers are available.
Everyone is different. Even though work styles may be similar between employees, the way employees get the job done may differ. Conflict may arise when employees don’t agree with the way somebody else is doing the job.
Conflicting Style Example
For example, if there is an employee and that has a fast paced work style and a slower more methodical employee. Both of these employees could get upset with each other. The faster paced employee may get upset because they believe the other employee is too slow. On the other hand, the slower paced employee may get upset with the faster paced employee because they believe they make too many mistakes.
Perceptions can lead to conflict. People perceive things differently. Especially when it comes to communication. Have you ever been in a situation where you said something that you thought was fine, only to find out you angered somebody? This is because of the way they perceived what you said.
Conflicting Perceptions Example
An exmaple of conflicting perceptions is a miscommunication between employees. Let’s say one employee says that they will get to a task as soon as they can. The other employee percieves that to mean they will get it done before the end of the day. The other person meant they had higher priorities and might not be able to get to until the end of the week. When the employees come in the next day there is an argument because the employees each percieved the communication differently.
People’s ultimate goals don’t always align with each other. This can also cause conflict. There are many different goals in the workplace. When it comes to work some people just want to do a good job, some people want more money, some people want power and recognition just to name a few.
Conflicting Goals Example
Say one employee has a goal to get promoted. Another employee’s goal is to get the job done and go home. This could cause conflict between the two employees. For example, the employee seeking promotion starts doing a lot of extra stuff to impress management. This causes the other employee to have to start doing some of the employees duties to get the job done and go home. This can definetly causes conflict in the workplace.
Pressures to get different tasks done can also cause conflict in the workplace. These pressures can come from different bosses or even the same boss. A lot of times this can arise from people wanting help from others on their task or even needing the same resources to accomplish the tasks.
Conflicting Pressures Example
Assume there are two employees in a factory. Employee “A”s boss is pressuring them to get a product made as quickly as possible to fulfill an order. Employee “B” is in the Quality Assurance department and is being told to raise the quality of the products going out. When employee “B” rejects multiple of employee “A”s product due to an increase in defects, conflict arises between the two.
Roles in the workplace may cause conflict from time to time. This can be the roles of supervisors and subordinates or the roles of peers. This is especially true when roles and duties or powers of those roles are not communicated and understood by everyone on your team.
Conflicting Roles Example
An example of this could occur when a manager puts team member “A” in charge of a project. Team member “B” is the most senior member of the team and believes he should be in charge. This causes conflict when team member “A” tries to get team member “B” to perform a certain task.
Different Personal Values
Personal values are what we use to guide our actions. Many times, people may not want to take certain actions due to personal beliefs and values. There may be situations in the workplace that arise where conflict arises due to differences in personal beliefs.
Different Personal Values Example
Worker “A” knowingly sends out products with defects. Worker “B” believes knows that Worker “A” is sending out defective products and believes this is not right. When Worker “B” confronts Worker “A” conflict arises.
When new policies are implemented, confusion can occur with employees. Some employees may not even agree with the new policies. This confusion and unwillingness to change can lead to conflict, especially between management and employees.
Unpredictable Policies Example
Worker “A” works in an office setting where the supervisor continually put out policies. It seems like every week a new policy is being released. Recently the supervisor put out a new policy that there would be no personal cell phones in the work area. This causes conflict with Worker “A” because she has kids and wants to be able to know if something happens with them.
Tips for Managing Conflict in the Workplace and Improving Employee Relations
Now that we understand the reasons for conflict, let’s discuss ways of managing conflict in the workplace.
Conflict Management Tip #1
Define the problem.
If you don’t understand what the problem is, you can’t fix it. Sometimes this can be tricky when it comes to conflict resolution in the workplace. One party may believe the problem is one thing while the other party believes the problem is something else. This is why it’s vital to get both sides of the story before working on fixing it.
Often, people may even say the problem is one thing but when you dig a little deeper, you realize the problem is something else completely. Using root, cause, analysis like the “5 whys” may be helpful in this situation.
Conflict Management Tip #2
There are no winners if everybody is trying to win an argument.
When it comes to conflict management in the workplace, everyone can’t try to be the winner. In this case, everybody loses. Even the person that won the argument will likely have a hard time working with that person in the future. They may have even lost some of the respect of other coworkers. The best option is to look for a solution that everybody is happy with.
Many times, managing conflict in the workplace becomes a negotiation. In a negotiation, the best outcome is a win-win for both sides. Click here for tips and tricks to improve your negotiating skills.
Conflict Management Tip #3
Communication is the key.
Listening is extremely important in communication. Especially when it comes to managing conflict in the workplace. Many times, we are not listening to what people are saying. Instead, we are thinking about what we are going to say next. Listening to the other parties involved is how we get to the root of the problem instead of just causing more issues by not hearing each other. Also, we must ensure we are talking about the issue at hand and not attacking each other during conflict.
Conflict Management Tip #4
Pick your battles.
Choosing your battles is a great way to avoid unnecessary conflict in the workplace and maintain employee relations. Not all battles are worth fighting. Too often, a boss attempts to fight every battle and it just makes them difficult to work with. Sometimes it’s better to just let some things go. Think to yourself “Is this going to affect me tomorrow? How about the next day? How about a week from now?”. If the answer to those questions is no is the battle worth fighting? Choosing your battles wisely also gives you a little more clout when you do have something worth battling for.
Conflict Management Tip #5
Keep your emotions in check.
Getting too emotional can get you in trouble when it comes to conflict resolution in the workplace. By keeping your emotions in check, you ensure you don’t say something you can’t take back. Also, when you stay calm it has a calming effect on those around you. Additionally, when you are calm, people tend to hear your message a lot more clearly. If you find yourself struggling to keep your emotions under control, you may have to walk away for a bit or do something else to calm yourself down.
Conflict Management Tip #6
Try not to look for a person to blame.
Spend your time and energy looking for a solution. Pointing fingers and looking for a person that’s at fault does no good for managing conflict in the workplace. It just takes away from the problem at hand. Also, when you start blaming people they become defensive. When people become defensive, they are a lot less willing to work together on a solution. Even if somebody did mess up, it is typically best just to say, “you messed up let’s fix it” and not dwell on the fact that they messed up.
Conflict Management Tip #7
Keep the conversation on topic and goal orientated.
This tip goes hand in hand with not trying to win the argument. To win the argument, we bring up things that have been done or said in the past or things that bother us that are completely unrelated to the problem at hand. This takes focus away from the current issue and just upsets people. Keep the focus on the current issue unless the past or other issues are extremely important to the current problem.
Conflict Management Tip #8
Leave your ego at the door.
Many times, our want to win an argument is due to our ego. When somebody gets called out on something, they feel attacked even when they are in the wrong. When we let our egos get the best of us, we have a hard time hearing what other people are saying. Also, we feel like we can’t give in or it makes us look weak. For these reasons, we need to keep our ego in check and listen to and rationalize what people are saying. Don’t let your ego get in the way of a good solution.
Conflict Management Tip #9
Admit you were wrong.
This can be one of the quickest ways to end an argument. Even if you feel like you did nothing wrong you can apologize that the other person is upset. Saying you’re sorry can get the other person to stop being defensive because it shows you’re trying to find a solution. This is also a good way to make sure your ego is in check and not getting in the way of a solution.
Conflict Management Tip #10
Talk it over in person.
Meeting face to face is almost always the best way to solve a conflict. When you discuss issues over the phone or worse yet through email or text message, parts of the message may be lost or misunderstood. When it comes to communication, body language and tone of voice are as important as the words that are said. Without body language and tone there is a much bigger risk that parts of the message will be misunderstood leading to more conflict.
Conflict Management Tip #11
Find common areas of agreement.
No matter what the issue is, there are likely things that both parties agree on. Look for these areas and build off them. An old sales technique called three yeses is very useful in these situations. This technique involves asking three relevant questions where the answer will be yes. Once the other party or parties have answered the questions, they are more likely to be in a state of mind where cooperation and collaboration can happen. Finding common ground between both parties can make managing conflict in the workplace much easier.
Conflict Management Tip #12
Build on successes.
One success leads to another. Each success can be like a stepping stone, leading to another. Make it a point to point out successes the parties involved have had toward resolving conflict. Even if it’s just a small step, it’s progress. Keep pushing forward until a resolution is reached.
Final Thoughts on Conflict Management in the Workplace
Managing conflict in the workplace can be tricky and may even take up a lot of your time but it’s something you as a leader need to take care of. Negative conflict can turn even the best employees into poor employees. Many times, it doesn’t only affect those involved but it can also bring down the whole team. Use these tips and strategies to minimize the effects of conflict in the workplace and keep your team performing at their best.
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