Ways to Get Ahead of Costly Work Conflict

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Strong personalities.  Political and religious differences. Age gaps. Inexperienced managers. Jealousy.  Unfair workloads.

Conflict is inevitable in any group environment.  Whether it occurs between associates or involves managers, it costs businesses in the forms of time, money, low morale, and turnover. 

Although impossible to avoid completely, a few simple strategies can help everyone get ahead of work conflict.

Strategy #1: Leaders as Examples

An important part of company culture involves the way managers model interpersonal relations.  A manager who affirms others’ opinions and is patient with workers establishes norms for how people should be treated. “Leaders who understand the power of their example treat coworkers at all levels with respect, mentor and coach people, seize and take advantage of teachable moments, show up on time and take responsibility for their actions. They show empathy, passion, integrity and compassion,” says Haley Crum Blanton of The Business Journals. When managers treat others as they want to be treated, associates often follow.

Leaders can also lead as examples by communicating the importance of teamwork.  Create team rewards when goals are met and create opportunities for team bonding.  This establishes a culture of being on the same side. 

Strategy #2: Anticipate and Address Potential Areas of Conflict

Thinking through areas of potential conflict can go a long way in its prevention.  At the beginning of a project, think about the various personalities and parts involved.  What will be most confusing?  Does every person understand his or her role?  Has the manager communicated how performance will be assessed and uniquely recognized?

Excellent and ongoing communication is crucial: “Workplace conflict can result from several different situations; however, the root cause is often poor communication,” says Kiely Kuligowski, Business News Daily. “For example, employee expectations may be unclearly communicated, employees may feel as though they don’t have a voice (lack of open dialogue), or the tone of someone’s words may be misinterpreted.” 

Establish a safe and confidential way to check in with employees throughout a project.  This will help employees stay on track and feel heard.  Addressing any interpersonal conflicts as soon as they begin can help avoid resentment.  If there is a conflict, managers should interview each person separately and ask questions in several ways to get the full story.  Serious conflicts may need mediation by someone who is trained to get behind the root cause of the conflict and listen intently without judgment.

Strategy #3: Resolve Conflict by Recognizing Emotion

Conflict is emotional.  Emotions can erupt and quickly get out of control, says Christina R. Wilson, PhD in Positive Psychology.  “Some emotions commonly associated with conflict include fear, anger, distrust, rejection, defensiveness, hopelessness, resentment, and stress (Wilmot & Hocker, 2011; Bolton, 1986).”

Listen empathetically to those in conflict to identify the emotion behind the conflict.  Is there a fear of being fired over a mistake?  Has trust been broken?  Problem-solve solutions and come up with compromises after a person has returned to a state of calm.

  • Do the parties in conflict understand one another’s perspectives?
  • Is there any area of mutual agreement?

Brainstorm workable solutions that benefit both sides when creating an action plan.  After implementing the plan, it is imperative to follow up and evaluate whether the conflict has been resolved.

Learning ways to resolve conflicts is vital for managers to maintain a positive, comfortable environment for all employees. By managing conflict quickly and effectively, managers demonstrate that they care about the well-being and positive culture of the workplace. “Effective conflict resolution skills and policies are imperative in the workplace. While a mismanaged conflict can be detrimental to your business, a properly handled conflict can save your business time and money and improve colleague relationships, employee performance, retention rates, communication skills and workplace culture,” says Kiely Kuligowski, Business News Daily.

Interpersonal or managerial conflicts are a big reason job seekers come to Artemis Consultants.  Today’s top talent demands a work culture that identifies, anticipates, and addresses conflicts pro-actively.

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