How to deal with conflict in the workplace

5 tips for better conflict resolution between your employees

Conflict in the workplace can be one of the hardest parts of the job for a manager.

Conflict management and resolution skills in the workplace are essential to ensure a healthy business and happy employees. Differing viewpoints and personality clashes are common conflicts and can be caused by a range of individual and organisational factors. As a manager, it is important to quickly implement conflict resolution strategies with compassion and respect.

conflict in the workplace

The importance of conflict resolution in the workplace

Employees come from all walks of life, bringing with them different life experiences and unique personalities. This can make for a rich and interesting working environment, but it can also be the source of conflict in the workplace. Sometimes teams gel together easily and at other times, conflict can arise between staff.

When good working relationships are established in the workplace, productivity and attendance is stable and employees are more likely to feel respected and motivated in their role.

If conflict in the workplace is not adequately addressed, then it can have a detrimental impact on the business. At an organisational level, conflict can lead to increased absenteeism, resignations, decreased productivity and an overall toxic workplace culture. At an individual level, unresolved conflict may lead to employees feeling stressed, anxious or even depressed.

What are the most common conflicts in the workplace?

It’s a fact of life that conflict will arise when people are in close proximity to each other- even when we try our best to avoid it! In the workplace, conflict tends to be one of two kinds; conflict that arises directly relating to the job or conflict that arises as the result of a personality differences.

In relation to the job, employees may have conflicting ideas, they may make decisions that impact on other employees, or perhaps they have a unique approach to their job that not everyone agrees with. Employees may express frustration about specific issues relating to another employee. For example, an employee may become irritated by a colleague who makes an unwelcome suggestion on how they can improve their productivity.

Conflict that is a result of personality differences, is where two or more people just don’t get along with each other. In this situation, an employee may feel frustrated with a person all the time, unrelated to the job. For example, an employee may find a colleague frustrating if they have a negative attitude or are continually complaining about work.

What causes conflict at work?

People are drawn into conflict in the workplace when they have an emotional reaction to a situation or person. This could be because of their personality, the way they manage social situations, their past experiences or current stressors in their professional or personal lives. What irritates one person, may not be an issue at all for another person. As a manager, it’s important to be mindful of what each employee brings to the workplace on a personal and professional level. As a manager you too may experience frustration with employees.

In the workplace, people tend to be motivated by getting a task complete, getting a task ‘right,’ getting along with people or getting appreciation from others. When these intents are obstructed (or challenged), then trouble may arise in the workplace. Good conflict management considers the emotional experience of each party and their motivators to come to a fair resolution.

5 tips for better conflict resolution in the workplace

Want to feel more confident in your conflict management skills and manage conflict in the workplace more effectively? These tips will help you manage conflict between employees with simple mediation strategies, before it gets out of hand and interferes with the business.

1. Don’t ignore the warning signs.

Sometimes conflict in the workplace can arise spontaneously as the result of an idea raised or a decision made by a manager or employee.

Don’t ignore the signs of emerging conflict! These may include: cynical comments, employees expressing frustration or irritation at another colleague, avoidant behaviour or hostility. It may also take the form of a colleague venting to someone else in the workplace, or making a direct complaint to you. This is a vital opportunity to manage conflict before it has a detrimental impact on your business and team.

2. Get both sides of the story.

Once conflict has been identified, or brought to your attention, meet individually with each of the involved parties to hear their story. Try approaching the situation in an open non-judgmental way, by inviting your employee to express how they’re feeling and communicate what has angered, irritated or upset them.

Avoid being dismissive. “Oh you’re taking it the wrong way,” or “that’s just how she is though,” are not helpful statements. Listen carefully to what is being said, but more importantly, identify the feeling and validate this. For example, “Julia, it sounds like what Richard said to you in the board meeting upset you. Your idea was dismissed and it has left you feeling as though your opinion doesn’t matter.”

Richard may explain his side of the story as “We had to make a decision quickly and I wanted everyone to be able to go home on time.” Even if it is a simple misunderstanding, the impact on your employees may not be so straightforward. Julia may have experienced other (unrelated) incidents where she has felt invalidated and so when these situations arise she may be easily triggered. Without addressing this issue, Julia may avoid speaking up in team meetings, or go home and take out her frustration on her family.

3. Encourage conflict resolution strategies.

Talk to both parties individually, and then if appropriate, invite them together into a meeting. Your role will then become that of a mediator, by encouraging both parties to express their concerns to a colleague in a respectful way.

In the first instance, it is helpful to ask your employee how they think the problem can be resolved. If we continue with the previous example, Julia may feel an apology is in order and Richard may also agree, or he may reconsider the way he invites discussion in meetings.

Give them a chance to sort it out on their own as this helps to build conflict resolution strategies within the team and sets up a business culture where conflict is dealt with swiftly and not ignored. If your employees are unable to come up with a way to resolve the problem, then you may gently offer some suggestions.

4. Monitor and escalate if needed.

This involves checking in with both employees to ensure the situation has been resolved. It may require further meetings, both individually, and together. However, if it becomes clear that the conflict is unable to be resolved at an employee level, then you may need to intervene at a higher level.

This may involve addressing environmental factors such as seating arrangements, who shares a shift together, or regular team meetings so employees can voice their concerns. It may involve providing in-house workshops, individual performance reviews or training on establishing good workplace relationships and conflict resolution skills. You may wish to review policies about workplace conflict or schedule team-building activities to boost morale and respect within the team.

5. Professional mediation services

If conflict in the workplace is escalating and you’ve tried the strategies listed above without success, then hiring a professional mediation service can be extremely beneficial.

A professional mediation service provides trained mediator to help staff and managers resolve interpersonal conflicts in the workplace. These interventions can offer you some stress-relief while providing confidential and expert support to your employees.

Commonly, employees respond better to discussing their difficulties with someone external (or not in a position of authority) to the workplace.

Mediation services Brisbane

At Ahead Psychology, we have experienced Senior Psychologists who work with managers and employees to help resolve conflict at work. Call Ahead Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3352 3577 or send us a message.