Resolving Conflict in the Workplace
“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” – Theodore Roosevelt
We all know this to be true, but sometimes it’s hard to put into action. There’s always that one co-worker with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye. Perhaps they’re too vocal with their opposing political views. Maybe it’s a difference in work ethic—you’re proactive while they procrastinate, always coming to you with urgent requests at the last minute. Or maybe you can’t pinpoint the reason, but you simply cannot get along.
Conflict is inevitable in every workplace. Fortunately, not all of it is bad. Tension among employees can result from a healthy exchange of ideas. Friendly competition leads to a more productive work environment as it drives employees to perform better. Some conflict is a natural result from having a culturally diverse or multi-generational workforce.
Unfortunately some conflict can escalate leading to employee dissatisfaction, reduced productivity, absenteeism, and increased turnover. Worst case scenario, it can create a hostile work environment and lead to harassment claims. When two employees are having an issue, it can bring down morale for the entire company.
Below are common sources of conflict and ways you can address them:
Different communication styles can lead to misunderstandings between employees. Ironically, effective communication is essential to prevent a conflict from getting out of hand. How can you encourage productive communication?
- Provide methods and training – One employee may prefer phone calls, while another favors email and instant messaging. Provide employees with different ways to communicate, and train them on the etiquette and proper use of these methods. At the very least it will help eliminate the annoying and unnecessary “reply all” emails.
- Hold weekly staff meetings – Think of it as a forum for employees to constructively voice their opinions. Meeting regularly, face-to-face, eliminates the possibility of misinterpreted tone associated with email.
- Set a good example – Managers should communicate to employees in the way they would like them to communicate with each other. Consider this the golden rule of communication.
You likely discovered in grade school that there are some people with whom you just can’t get along. Name calling and hair pulling won’t cut it in the workplace. Adults need to learn how to play (and work) nicely with others. How can you help the situation?
- Promote professionalism – You can’t force them to be best buddies, but you can request they treat each other with respect. Insist that they refrain from confrontation, as the saying goes: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
- Try team building – Working together toward a common goal can bring people together, especially when they must rely on each other’s strengths to accomplish the task. Pairing the two on a simple assignment may help heal the relationship.
- Separate as a last resort– If all else fails, physically separate them. While this isn’t ideal, it may be necessary in order to maintain a harmonious work environment for everyone.
Differences in Opinion
Having employees with a varying values, goals and views can be one of your company’s biggest assets. It can also lead to trouble. How can you ensure a healthy debate doesn’t cross the line?
- Address the situation – If you sense that the tension may lead to something more serious, it’s time to talk with those involved. Acknowledging the issue, and encouraging communication can help diffuse it.
- Find common ground – This doesn’t mean finding something they can both agree on, it means finding shareable ground, marked by a range of actions, that they both can live with. It’s all about compromise where both parties give and take.
- Agree to disagree – Resolving conflict doesn’t have to mean a win/lose outcome. Sometimes agreeing not to agree is the best solution.