How To Resolve Workplace Conflict

Nov 17, 2015

How To Resolve Workplace Conflict

No one likes conflict, especially in the workplace. It makes everyone uncomfortable whether you're part of the disagreement, a supervisor responsible for conflict resolution, or simply another employee who is in the middle of a tense environment. Conflict negatively affects the mental health of employees, decreases productivity, and can even cause some people to leave an organization. Fortunately, workplace conflict can be minimized by understanding the causes of conflict. A peaceful work atmosphere can become a reality when everyone is willing to make an effort.

So why do we struggle to get along? There are countless reasons, ranging from economic conflicts to competing to obtain scarce office resources (office space, supplies, time with the boss, or budget funds), and from organizational conflicts to inequalities in how employees report to one another. One of the leading causes of office conflict, however, is poor communication.

Because people are individuals, they differ in the way they approach other people and problems. For example, suppose your boss realizes your workload has been getting pretty heavy. To help, he passes along a few projects to one of your coworkers but fails to mention this to you. The problem? Why is Billy taking over my work? Who does he think he is? Undue resentment and hostility start to pile up, and poor Billy, completely out of the loop, has no idea why. Differences in communication styles or a failure to communicate can create uncertainty that leads to stress and conflict. If coworkers do not communicate well with each other, it may not be clear what roles and responsibilities each member should assume. Even worse, if management fails to communicate clearly, employees become disengaged from the lack of direction, and productivity wanes—as does the company's bottom line.

Differences in personality and emotional intelligence among employees are other causes of workplace conflict. Different backgrounds and experiences shape our personalities, and our biases and clarity in thinking shape our emotional intelligence, giving each individual varying strengths and weaknesses. Employees may have incompatible needs, goals, or approaches to relationships or work styles. When people fail to understand the differences in others, problems arise. For example, you work closely with an outgoing, boisterous coworker. You find him to be rude and obnoxious. He, on the other hand, finds your introverted nature to be conceited and pompous. The problem? When the two of you do not understand and respect each other's nature, troubles arise. Conflict occurs from no real issue—simply from perceptions about two different individuals. In this case, it is important to remember that your way is not always the right way, and your nature is not necessarily the "normal" one. Different personalities can actually strengthen a team by contributing different ideas and solutions.

Understanding causes of conflict is one thing, but how can workplace conflict be controlled? What about conflict resolution? Many employers regulate workplace conflict through human resource initiatives, such as an employee relations program that addresses workplace issues, employee concerns, and management issues that can lead to conflict. Many organizations also implement formal policies that establish acceptable and unacceptable behavior and identify inappropriate issues through the use of a number of techniques, including confidential employee-opinion surveys, employee hotlines, and one-on-one meetings. But sometimes conflict resolution can only be established through investigations into employee misconduct. An investigation sheds light on issues that underlie conflict. Human resources usually collects statements from employees, conducts research on policies, and interviews witnesses to decide how to remedy the conflict.

Leadership development and employee development can be proactive approaches to reducing workplace conflict. Regular training on topics out of which workplace conflicts arise can better equip employees for avoiding conflict in the first place. For example, take communication—one of the leading causes of workplace conflict. At ZERORISK HR, our Clear Direction Team & Communication Development Program provides a comparison of managers' emotional intelligence competencies and motivators with each of their key direct reports, peers, and direct manager, and explains how they can best work with each person. What better way to avoid conflict than by developing a greater understanding of each team member? Employers who provide regular training to employee groups and management groups are better able to control inappropriate behavior that underlies workplace conflict. Is your company ready to take the next step in preventing, managing, and resolving workplace conflict? Contact ZERORISK HR to find out how we can help.

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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