Conflict in the workplace heavily determines your work environment. When tackling conflict that is leading to a negative environment, there are 7 ways to resolve it.
Conflict is at the heart of a productive and healthy work environment. Conflict is also at the heart of a toxic work environment. The difference between the two is how conflict is identified, handled, and resolved.
When recognized and effectively dealt with, conflict is by far the most effective way for an organization to grow either by improving team cohesion, or by helping an individual improve. However, this same conflict can rot an organization out from the inside, if it’s ignored, allowed to fester, and turn into something unmanageable.
Competent managers and leaders must understand when to engage and address conflict in the workplace, and how to foster an environment that actively encourages healthy conflict, rather than trying to artificially maintain an image of harmony where none exists.
To address conflict and identify the best ways to deal with it, it’s important to distinguish between the different kinds of conflict in the workplace. Harvard argues that conflict is best split into three types:
- Value conflict
Types of Conflict in the Workplace
Each type is common within the workplace, and the three archetypes explain why we decide to engage with others, whether emotionally or respectfully.
– Task Conflict
Task conflict is best described by a disagreement on how to go about doing one’s work. Anything related to how business resources are spent – from manpower to hours, money, and physical resources – is task conflict.
In a task conflict, one party is in disagreement with another party due to either a personal matter (the second type of conflict) or a professional matter (feeling that resources are being spent inefficiently). The key to addressing this type of conflict is getting to the root of it.
- Is there a personal cause, or is it a purely professional concern?
- Is it valid, or rooted in a misunderstanding/lack of knowledge?
– Relationship Conflict
The second type is the relationship conflict. Relationship conflicts are arguably some of the most common, and are caused by personality differences, and disagreements. These workplace conflicts can arise due to incompatible working personalities, manipulative coworkers, or a bad gut feeling.
Sometimes, relationship conflicts are at the root of task conflicts. Ask employees to exercise empathy and try to resolve their own relationship issues together or let a manager act as a mediator.
– Value Conflict
The third type can be the most explosive, as it is the value conflict. Here, we find our beliefs and values challenged. These range from deep-seated cultural beliefs and traditions to moral values, political stances, and religious beliefs.
While these topics are a taboo at the workplace, certain coworker behavior or company policies may set off these beliefs and force some people to confront a choice between remaining professional or defending their values.
Here, employees should exercise mutual respect, and to avoid discriminatory or demonizing behavior, as well as to refrain from exercising judgment on one another for one’s beliefs, but to instead focus on one’s competence and personality.
Tackling Workplace Conflict
When tackling any kind of conflict in the workplace, it’s important to beware of the basics of conflict resolution:
1. Nip It in the Bud
Rule one is to develop a good nose for sniffing out workplace conflict and recognizing it quickly. Don’t let little comments or obvious hints and body language slide. When your gut or your perceptive skills tell you that something is going on at the office, bring it up. Question it.
Let both parties air their grievances out properly and early, rather than letting it fester. Sometimes, one or the other party (or both) are extremely conflict averse yet are clearly in disagreement. By letting this drag on rather than pulling it out into the open, you’re risking their conflict exploding into something completely out of proportion.
2. Practice Empathy and Perspective
This is something you must do as a manager, and something you must preach as a leader. Empathy is an underrated business skill, in part because people misunderstand it as wanting to do right by everyone. Being empathic does not equate letting everyone trample over you.
You have a job to do, and sometimes, that job involves cutting people out of the company for the greater good of the organization. But in order to accurately determine where the issue originated and how to address it, you must pragmatically employ empathy and perspective to analyze a conflict calmly.
3. Compile and Stick to the Truth
When seeking to resolve a conflict that can ultimately only end up in reprimanding and punishing one party or another, it’s important to go on a hunt for any and all possible information. Blaming the wrong person for starting a fight can kill morale and cause you to lose more than just the confidence and faith of a single employee.
You need to be sure, and that means being diligent and careful. Always stick to the truth, even if it’s an uncomfortable one. Never, ever allow yourself to play favorites in a conflict.
4. Consider Third-Party Mediation
It’s genuinely difficult to be impartial at all times. Sometimes, you need someone else there to mediate conflict in the workplace – especially when you’re part of the conflict.
Third-party mediation can play an important role in some cases to help your team effectively navigate towards a healthy resolution, without forcing you to play multiple roles and give into your own biases.
5. It’s Okay to Have Different Opinions
You can just agree to disagree sometimes. But the key here is not to mute the conversation into oblivion or simply seek to bury the hatchet for the sake of stopping an argument, but to emphasize a stance of mutual respect based on competence, rather than chemistry or values.
You might not necessarily like what your coworker believes in or what they stand for, but they do a good job, work hard, play well with everyone, and it’s important to continue having a good working relationship together.
Possessing the maturity to do this can be hard sometimes, but this is a country where people are free to believe a great many things, and live their lives in a great many ways, and that means many of us must accept that the people we work with don’t always have the same views that we do.
6. Handle Conflict in Person
Never try to handle conflict remotely, unless no alternative exists (and even then, at least opt for a face-to-face conference call). It’s important to send a clear message to all parties involved and the rest of the organization that your team takes these issues extremely seriously.
You must show that your team will address and resolve conflict immediately, in person, with full focus on finding the best resolution.
7. It’s About Workplace Performance
Once again, focus on what’s relevant. A business exists to meet a demand, fulfill one’s employees, and produce something great, whether it’s a unique service or a product you and your team can be proud of.
When conflicts are running amok among you, the work suffers invariably, and performance drops quite significantly. Prioritize resolving conflicts in order to achieve what is most important: a strong, healthy business environment that continues to be a great place to come work at.
Conflict in the workplace is key to helping businesses flourish and provide excellent services and goods. While it is a leader’s job to lead the crew and navigate choppy waters, a good leader gives each and every member of their crew the opportunity and time to engage in a productive conflict, offer constructive criticism, regularly disagree (whenever valid), and put forth their own opinions to strive for a better product or service.