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How to Resolve Workplace Conflict

by Tim AustinDecember 4, 2018 1:22 PM

Let’s face it; you’re not going to get along with every person you meet—and that includes the people you work with.

Conflict in the workplace happens at every organization and ignoring it can be costly. A study by professional training and coaching company CPP, Inc. found that 85 percent of employees experience conflict in the workplace. When it’s fight or flight, it’s easy to want to avoid conflict at all costs; however, your organization will surely pay the price by avoiding conflict management altogether. CPP’s research found that workplace conflict wastes nearly three hours per week, costing $359 billion in paid hours.

Because every employee possesses a unique set of attitudes, visions, and values that may differ from that of their co-workers, these differences can sometimes lead to conflicts in the office. We put together some conflict management tips to help you understand what can spark a conflict in the workplace and how you can put out the flames for even the hottest office tempers.

Two employees with clashing personalities, egos and opinions get into a conflict at work.

What Causes Conflict in the Workplace?

Given the multitude of personality types in any given workplace, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of employees find themselves dealing with conflict in a professional capacity. CPP found that the main sources of conflict include:

  •  Personality clashes and warring egos
  • Stress
  • Heavy workloads and inadequate resources
  • Poor leadership
  • Lack of role clarity and accountability
  • Bad team pairing
  • Compensation issues

When Should HR Get Involved?

When there’s a conflict in the workplace, it’s best to work to resolve the issue right away. If conflict is left unresolved—or handled incorrectly—workplace conflict can have negative results. It’s especially important for HR to step in during the following scenarios.

Employees threaten to quit over the problem

Employee retention rates can drop if a problem isn’t properly handled. Research by PsychTests found that 42 percent of workers would quit their jobs due to a toxic work environment.

Disagreements get personal

When you don’t correct a problem, employees tend to believe they can do and say whatever they please, like hurling personal insults and attacks at colleagues. This can lead to a loss of respect between employees and create a huge bullying problem at your company. About one in five workers say they have directly experienced bullying on the job, according to a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute.

The morale and success of your organization is affected

A unified company will boast high morale and great business performance. When conflict threatens the culture and success of your company, your organization can’t perform to its full potential. A toxic workplace culture can cause workers to feel stressed, depressed, and anxious, and they may even lose sleep over it. This can negatively impact your employees’ immune systems, making workers more susceptible to illness and sick days. Employees may even just take days off to avoid the office bully, as the CPP survey found that one in four workers have seen conflict lead to sickness or absence.

Positive Results of Conflict Management

Good conflict management can lead to lasting benefits for your organization. By taking the right measures to resolve conflict in the workplace, CPP found that 76 percent of workers saw positive outcomes, including:

Improved working relationships and a better understanding of others

Conflict resolution is all about open communication, so it’s important that employees calmly talk about workplace issues to help everyone better understand each other and see situations from different points of views. Maybe one employee doesn’t like when another listens to music at without headphones. Perhaps someone else doesn’t like that he or she was passed over for a promotion. These problems don’t always go away on their own, so talking about it can not only improve working relationships, it can also help prevent problems in the future.

Better solutions to future problems and challenges

Having the right infrastructure in place for dealing with conflicts can provide an excellent precedent for how conflicts can be dealt with in the future. That way, you know how to handle any conflict before it becomes a bigger issue.

Greater performance and increased motivation

When employees are happy, they will be more motivated to do a good job. A study from the University of Warwick found that employee happiness can result in a 12 percent increase in productivity.

Try This Conflict Management Strategy

Whether it’s a quarrel between two employees or a squabble across entire departments, it’s best not to waste any time getting to the bottom of it. Schedule a meeting to address the problem in a private, neutral setting, such as a conference room.

You can also follow these nine steps adapted from the Society for Human Resource Management to quickly and effectively resolve the conflict:

  1. Set ground rules. All parties should agree to treat each other with respect and try to listen and understand each other’s views.
  2. Ask each participant to describe the conflict and their ideal outcome. Focus on specific behaviors and problems instead of on people and have them use “I” statements rather than pointing the finger with “you” statements.
  3. Ask participates to repeat back what others have said to ensure there is no miscommunication.
  4. Summarize the conflict based on what you have heard. Make sure participants are all in agreement.
  5. Brainstorm solutions. Discuss all possible options in a positive manner. Remember: No idea is a bad idea.
  6. Process of elimination: Rule out any solutions that participants agree won’t help resolve the issue.
  7. Summarize all possible options to determine the best possible solution. Make sure all parties agree on the solution.
  8. Execute the agreed-upon solution by assigning next steps to each participant. Make sure all parties agree on their next steps. Lay out a plan to follow up, if necessary.
  9. End the meeting on good terms. Ask the participants to shake hands, apologize and thank each other for working to resolve the conflict.

While it’s easy to want to shy away from conflict at work, it’s far better for your organization to address these issues. Employee training and performance managementare key HR functions that can help create a workplace culture that fosters camaraderie—not conflict—among your employees. Contact Group Management Services today to talk with one of our experts about the different ways you can manage conflict at your organization.

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