As you may expect, conflict in the workplace can be a serious issue for a small business. Unresolved conflicts among workers can create a difficult working environment both for those involved and others witnessing the dispute. These issues also have a direct impact on the financial well-being of your business.
According to a report published by the University of New Mexico, the collective cost of unresolved conflicts can be as high as $300 billion annually for businesses across the country. Other analyses peg the figure at approximately $359 billion in lost revenue.
Without a way to resolve contentious relationships, you’re inadvertently increasing the risk of developing a dysfunctional workforce that hurts your business in the long run. It’s time to break down to root causes of employee conflicts and how your business can resolve these problems.
What Causes Workplace Conflicts?
Honestly, conflict in the workplace can originate from any number of sources. It could be something as simple as a department manager being rude to a new hire or something like an employee who feels like they're not treated fairly by their colleagues. At worst, the root of the conflict can be something like blatant harassment or inappropriate, lewd behavior.
Hot-button topics are also notorious for creating unnecessary conflicts at work. The crux of the problem could be anything from political opinions to which sports franchise has more clout. The trick is to have a strategic conflict resolution plan to solve the problem.
Five Steps To Resolving Workplace Conflicts
It’s important to have a plan that helps you handle conflict and help everyone work towards a common goal – growing the company and furthering its success. Use the following steps to address conflicts before it's too late.
1. Meet with the conflicting parties
Defining the root cause of the conflict is the first, and arguably most difficult, step. It's critical to discover how the issue got to this point in the first place. Meeting with the conflicting parties can help you get both sides of the story and identify if the problem is easy to address or will require a more detailed response.
These meetings should happen in a private, neutral setting. Both parties need to have their voices heard so that each of them acknowledges the other’s perspective. You’ll also want to play the role of an active listener. Make sure both parties know you’re paying attention and obtain as much information as possible to help them come to a reasonable solution.
2. Investigate the conflict following the meeting
Following the meeting, it's always wise to investigate the integrity and the validity of each party's explanation of how the conflict started in the first place. Often, you'll discover that the root of the problem is nothing more than a usual misunderstanding among two dedicated, passionate, and career-minded professionals.
3. Determine ways to truly resolve the conflict and meet a common goal for all parties
The next step involves a fair amount of creativity on your part. You have to think outside of the box and brainstorm ways to manage and ultimately resolve the issue once and for all.
This process may require additional communication, investigation, and planning. Don’t be afraid to sit down with both individuals again to openly discuss ways that manage and resolve the conflict. Use this brainstorming session to come up with ideas to deescalate the situation and come to a conclusion that benefits everyone.
4. Develop a conclusion
Once you gather all the information, you can finally make a determination on the extent of the issue, how the conflict began, how it escalated, and what everyone can do today to finally put the negativity to rest.
The idea is to lay out a clear plan of action to find common ground and focus on the task at hand: working towards the same goal and furthering the company's success as an efficient team of skilled professionals. Once this plan is in place, communicate it with the individuals so that they can put an end to the ordeal.
5. Decide on preventative strategies for the future
The last step is to ensure that this particular conflict doesn't happen again. Evaluate the situation to see if this conflict can rear its ugly head again. If so, create an action plan to not only avoid conflicts, but also quickly address them in the future if they do occur.
Six Ways Small Businesses Can Minimize Conflict
While some conflict is inevitable, there are ways to minimize the likelihood of workplace disputes. There are a variety of strategies small business can utilize to protect themselves and their employees from these issues.
Establish written rules and clearly defined company policies
A good policy will make the conflict resolution process smoother when issues arise. Use your employee handbook to lay out clear guidelines about employee conduct and expectations for people within your company. These ground rules will help set the tone for what is and isn’t acceptable and clearly describe the consequences and next steps for misbehavior.
Hire the right people
The right employees will be less likely to create conflict. It’s important to not only hire people with the right skills, but also a good temperament for your business. You can also conduct background checks to try and identify any red flags that may cause problems in the future. Spend some time to properly vet each prospective employee to minimize the chances of conflict in the future.
Provide management training
Another way to minimize the impacts of conflict is better management training. You can't be everywhere at once throughout the day, so you entrust your management team to be your eyes and ears. Training managers and other appropriate personnel on established policies and identifying brewing conflicts can help your business quell minor issues before they grow into severe problems.
Create a fair grievance process
Poor communication is a problem. A fair grievance process is an effective problem-solving tool that allows employees to feel heard and managers to identify the source of conflict before it becomes a bigger issue.
No matter what policies you put in place, the process needs to be transparent and equitable. The same standards should apply to management and workers. This process will keep everyone accountable to each other and quickly soothe exasperated employees.
Feedback is what brings the resolution process back to the beginning. You may spend a tremendous amount of time making written procedures and policies – and for good reason – but there's still plenty to overlook.
Give employees a way to provide feedback so that they share ideas on how to make the workplace a better place, whether that’s an anonymous tip line or a company email address. This feedback loop can help you fine-tune your policies to your workforce and, hopefully, put petty fights and arguments to rest.
Protect Your Business From Conflict
Workplace tension is a recipe for lost productivity and heated arguments. However, it’s not always easy to put conflict resolution strategies into place by yourself. GMS has the human resource experts to provide you with the tools and support you need to manage employee relationships.
Ready to make your business simpler, safer, and stronger? Contact GMS today about how we can support your business through dedicated service and support.