“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” – Albert Einstein
Dealing with workplace conflicts might not feel like an opportunity in the moment – tough conversations aren’t fun. However, conflict managed well can be a catalyst for growth and change.
On the flip side, if you handle conflict badly, or worse, try ignoring it things will quickly snowball and sour the tone of the whole work environment.
The Snowball Effect Of Conflict
Nothing good comes from routinely avoiding conflict – rather than going away, the issue just festers and builds. What may have started as a small misunderstanding or disagreement can grow into a problem that impacts the entire team and even the company’s bottom line.
Productivity takes a hit
Effective communication is vital for a productive, focused workplace. While a communication breakdown can stem from a variety of issues, tension between workmates is a major culprit.
Queensland Government research shows conflict is a major cause of staff turnover and over 65% of employee performance problems are the result of strained relationships rather than a lack of skill or motivation.
Feuding team members will likely struggle to define, align, and meet their collective goals.
Compromised customer experience
Unaddressed dysfunction within a team leads to compromised service delivery which, inevitably, will be felt by customers. They’ll soon be moving on to find a better customer experience with one of your competitors.
The best people leave
Fail to de-escalate a conflict and managers could see their best and brightest team members leave for greener pastures. No one enjoys walking into a tense environment where conflict and snippy office politics makes getting the job done a struggle.
Employee turnover is bound to increase – and who can blame them for seeking healthier work options elsewhere?
It doesn’t reflect well on management
A team divided by conflict doesn’t shine bright for their leader’s reputation. Ongoing issues highlight a manager’s inability to deal with conflict or ignorance for not noticing the problems right under their nose. Some conflicts are overwhelming to deal with but if a leader doesn’t feel equipped to address the situation quickly, the path forward may be calling in an outside mediator.
An unhealthy outburst is on the horizon
Bottled up tension has to escape somehow. When issues aren’t acknowledged and people don’t feel their opinion is being heard, it’s a workplace outburst in the making.
Arguments, bullying or even a breakdown can have serious long-term consequences, both for the mental health of those involved and from a legal standpoint for the organisation.
5 Tips For Handling Workplace Conflict
Conflicts don’t disappear on their own. Whether you’re the boss dealing with team conflict or a team member dealing with a colleague, take immediate action to resolve a conflict quickly – no matter how trivial it may seem.
Forget blame, just get to the cause of the issue
Getting to the root cause of the problem is more important than sparring about who’s to blame. Blame is aggressive and rarely builds understanding or provides clarity about what the real issue is.
We’re all human, we all mess up but blaming others for mistakes at work is not a productive way to deal with a problem. Instead, focus on getting to the real cause and coming up with potential solutions.
It’s not about being right or winning
“When conflict becomes a win-lose contest in our minds, we immediately try to win.” Thomas Crum
If you truly want to de-escalate a conflict, your desire for a resolution has to trump your desire to win or be right. This can be hard …especially when you are really sure you ARE right. We’ve all been there!
Put aside the idea of who is wrong or right and instead focus on finding common ground and a mutually agreeable resolution. Otherwise you’ll be doomed to remain adversaries in a continual cycle of headbutting and disagreement.
Be clear on your goal
Approaching a conflict can feel awkward but if you keep your conversation goal and benefit oriented, you’ll have a better chance at getting the other party to open up to discussion.
For example, you might say: “Can we take a look at the process step by step and what we can change to catch this issue next time.”
There’s a clear goal – reviewing the process – and a benefit – avoiding a repeat mistake. There’s no blame and the next action steps are clear.
Share what you could have done better
A tense situation can be turned to a constructive conversation by putting the spotlight on yourself or your team and what you could have done differently.
By going first and sharing an example of what you could have done differently, you show accountability and your commitment to finding a resolution. The conflict discussion becomes a constructive two-way street and no one feels attacked.
We can always be optimising the way we do things for a better outcome – dealing with a conflict is often a great opportunity to do this.
Have ‘the chat’ face to face
Ah, we all know how disastrous work email can be when emotions are running high! Don’t leave your conflict resolution to email – you could risk making a bad situation worse.
Instead, make time to speak in person. It might not be fun but it’s worth getting everything out in the open face to face.
If it’s a disagreement between two team members, a quick chat in a private, quiet space might be appropriate. A bigger issue may call for a more structured approach, and managers should be aware of HR policies and requirements around formal conflict resolution discussions.
Communication and Conflict will equip your team with practical strategies and tools to increase communication and manage conflict in the workplace. The result? Increased self-awareness, collaboration, and higher performance!