Many people deal with workplace conflict throughout their careers. While unpleasant, managing this conflict is a key skill that can drastically reduce the potential negative impact for everyone concerned.
What Causes Workplace Conflict?
Conflict can occur anywhere and for almost any reason. Some of the primary causes include:
- Differences in personality
- Behaviours that some colleagues find annoying or irritating
- Unclear roles in the workplace
- Poor communication
- Differences in work methods
- Inequities of resources, real or imagined
- Systemic circumstances – for example, a new merger
This conflict can be expressed in several ways, ranging from bullying and anger to the refusal to work with a certain colleague or colleagues. It can result in significant workplaces disruptions, the failure of projects, and decreased productivity overall. Some employees may also be suspended or terminated, and many people can experience emotional distress outside of work because of conflict.
Workplace conflict is unfortunately very common. Four in ten UK employees report having experienced some form of interpersonal conflict within the last year, with most occurring between the employee and their line manager. Remote employees aren’t exempt from this either – in fact, according to one study, 80% of remote workers have experienced conflict in the workplace.
A conflict management process is therefore vital for the well-being of employees and the productivity of the company. Without one, conflict can spiral out of control.
How to Resolve Workplace Conflict
There are several steps that you can take to resolve conflict in the workplace:
- Face conflict head-on. By ignoring conflict or hoping that those butting heads will resolve it themselves, you give it the opportunity to get worse and impact more areas of the workplace and the company as a whole. Minimise the severity of the issue by handling it early and not giving it a chance to fester.
- Clarify the source. The first step is to identify the source of the conflict. What needs are unmet in both parties? What is the common issue? What is the root cause? Ask both parties their viewpoint and get to the bottom of the issue before preparing for the next steps.
- Find neutral ground. When establishing a meeting with the parties in conflict, find a neutral, private place to meet. This could be somewhere away from the workplace or a neutral space such as a conference room. Try to make sure that you will not be interrupted during the meeting.
- Actively listen. Allow both parties to air their grievances and don’t interrupt. Give them both equal time to speak and set some ground rules to keep things equal and civil.
- Investigate. Once you have listened to the concerns and grievances of both parties, investigate what they have both said. Talk to other people involved and dig deeper into the issues presented and how people are feeling.
- Look for a common objective. Having a common goal can help all parties work towards solving it. Primarily, this should be solving the existing conflict, but it could also include finding long-term solutions and meeting company objectives. Brainstorming with both parties can reveal some new, innovative solutions!
- Agree on the solution. Finding common ground and brainstorming solutions means that there are plenty of options on hand for the future.
Although it may not seem like it at first, conflict can be a hidden opportunity. There is room for growth and development within disagreements, and teams can come out the other side of conflict stronger than before.
Conflict is not an easy thing to handle in the workplace; however, having an effective conflict resolution plan in place can help reduce the amount of conflict that arises and will also provide a good outline on how to manage what does come up.
Jane joined Oyster Partnership in November 2017 as a receptionist. She started showing her artistic flair and enthusiasm for all things marketing soon after joining the business. Since then she has worked hard and built her way up from being a receptionist to running the marketing department at Oyster Partnership.