In both our personal and professional lives, conflict is frankly inescapable. And as such, everything down to our genetic fibres screams at us to avoid it.
After all, as the saying goes, why would you kick a hornet’s nest? But the real question is, why do I have a hornet’s nest buzzing aggressively in my workplace? And how do I safely remove it? Well, the answer lies in conflict resolution.
Defining and recognising workplace conflict
As with any productivity obstruction, conflict in the workplace has both a plethora of causes and early warning signs. The mark of a good leader, is being able to spot them and then actively defuse the situation before it escalates out of control. So, what creates workforce conflict? While there are several contributory factors, we believe they can be broken down into two simple categories: internal and external.
The external is probably the hardest to resolve. Largely because these pressure points stem from influences outside of your purview.
Home life, personal relationships, financial strains – you can (and should) take an active interest but there’s always a line which helps maintain a healthy work-life balance. And sometimes just listening or being a supportive shoulder can go a long way.
So let’s focus on the internal; the things within both your remit and control. The key to being able to define and recognise conflict, is to know your staff. That way, you can tell when things are amiss. This could manifest as a breakdown in communication, emotional outbursts, or fatigue brought about by stress.
Maybe an imbalance of responsibilities is causing a team member to feel smothered under the weight of mounting duties. And like a pot on a stove, they are bubbling with resentment. Or, inversely, an employee could be so under-utilised that they start acting up with impunity.
Why is conflict resolution so important?
According to CCP, Inc 85% of employees experience workplace conflict, which takes not only a mental toll, but also a financial one. Productivity grinds to a halt, malaise sets in and staff turnover skyrockets. So failing to identify and resolve conflict can lead to ruin.
But the real benefit of conflict resolution in the workplace doesn’t come from last minute actions but early intervention. Because by investing in conflict resolution strategies and taking preventative steps, you clearly signal to your employees that your company is a healthy place of business. This organically breeds trust and a rise in productivity naturally follows.
Think about it, if you work in an environment that has established company procedures for handling conflict, which of the following statements leap to mind? “This place has a major problem with conflict” or “Should anything arise, I’m confident it will be resolved”?
Honing and improving your conflict resolution skills
The best leaders are the ones who identify tension points and then build a roadmap to offset them. But, to ensure lasting success, this has to be handled in a productive and respectful manner.
Because we’re not talking about something functional, like repairing a piece of furniture – conflict can be fluid, aggressive and adversely affect people’s mental health. And this is a skill that requires development. Any good psychologist will tell you that empathy doesn’t come naturally to humans, it has to be learned.
How do you resolve workplace conflict?
The question you have to ask every single time is, “What is the desired outcome?” It’s that simple. What do you want to happen? From there it’s easier to then reach common ground. It affords you the opportunity to be more impartial and patient. As well as accepting accountability for any shortcomings.
Five vital tips to resolving workplace conflict
Be conscious of your spoken and body language
How you present yourself and the words you choose to employ, set the tone from the outset. So it’s important to ensure the individual you’re speaking to doesn’t feel threatened, ignored or manipulated. That way, by establishing and building trust, you’re able to ascertain the cause of the conflict and amicably resolve it.
Outline what acceptable behaviour looks like
Oftentimes, there isn’t malicious intent behind an employee’s actions. They can be rooted in personal experience and a disconnect between what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s your job, as company or team leader to set clear guidelines and boundaries that are easily understood. A way to achieve this is to offer training exercises which centre on fictional conflict resolution scenarios. All of which reduces confusion and misinterpretation.
Create a safe space to talk
Part of the resolution process is conflict mediation. But in order to get to that stage, there needs to be approachability. Having a physical place, or even an open culture, that allows employees the chance to both speak and be heard, is crucial.
Reposition conflict as opportunity
Rather than running from conflict or waiting until it intensifies, try to see it as a chance to connect with your staff. This is a great chance to get an insight into what is impacting them and where you can make improvements.
Setting out and meeting common goals and targets
Actions speak louder than words, and so too does lived experience. The conflict you’re addressing will have arisen from a specific issue. What’s needed now is a path out of that conflict – one which the employee in question can track and observe, as well as actively take part in.