Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

5 min. read

Conflict resolution strategies for the modern workplace and how to deal with warring employees.

What is workplace conflict? Our definition

Even if you are among the best of friends, conflict is bound to happen and workplace conflict happens far more often than we'd like. It's important to understand a workplace conflict definition which describes the particular nuances of workplace interactions, as distinct from normal interpersonal relationships. To put it simply, it can be defined as "A sharp disagreement or opposition of interests or ideas between two or more co-workers, as it relates to the performance of their jobs or in a workplace setting, such that it would affect the productivity and morale of the employees."

The strain and stress that these conflicts among co-workers take on a business is immeasurable, so it is important to have a strong method of effective conflict resolution in a work environment.

Human resources departments all over the world deal with conflict management and problem solving among team members in an effort to resolve conflicts and get the show back on the road, so to speak. Without a well-oiled staff machine, business suffers, causing a host of new problems to deal with. Poor communication, absenteeism, and a rapidly deteriorating company culture and office environment.

Resolving workplace conflicts is not an easy thing to do, especially when you have combative individuals and personality clashes at the heart of the matter. Finding common ground can be tricky, and getting to the causes of conflicts can be a bit of a tightrope. Communication styles may differ, work styles as a whole may be at odds, but improving employee relations and dissolving employee conflict with effective communication and top-notch conflict resolution skills can be an invaluable tool for HR and executives.

What causes conflict in the workplace?

Handling conflict in the first place takes some steely nerves. It requires an enormous amount of patience and the ability to allow for different points of view. There are a variety of sources of conflict in the workplace including interpersonal, organizational, change related, and external factors. Interpersonal conflict is the most apparent form of conflict for fellow co-workers. It is easy enough to observe the results of office politics, gossip, and rumors. These types of "water cooler cliques" happen in almost every office setting, and business owners struggle with the erosion of teamwork and lowering of employee morale which inevitably results.

If you find that your staff members are at odds with one another, then here are some things to keep in mind. The effective management of workplace conflict requires an understanding of the nature and sources of conflict in the workplace. Getting to the heart of, and repairing or resolving trouble in a working relationship between two employees has to include employee engagement and the willingness on their part to make a change and to resolve to get along, or at the very least to exhibit mutual respect, despite any differences that may be voiced.

Among the many sources of conflict, one should also consider the possibility of clashing language and personality styles, as well as cultural or racial or even gender conflicts. People often bring their stresses from home into the office leading to further conflict. An additional source of workplace conflict can be found in differing ideas and approaches to personal success. The strong drive for work-related achievement in some employees can clash with others who do not emphasize work-related success in their lives.

Why you need to utilize effective workplace conflict management strategies

The key to resolving any conflict is to fully understand that both sides of the fight have valid and justifiable points of view on the matter. When individuals get into disagreements with one another, a lack of communication results and the problem deepens. Communication however, is the one thing that is essential in resolving such issues.

Taking both parties aside and having a confidential interview to get each person's list of grievances is as good a start as any. While it's important to get to the bottom of why someone is upset, the bigger goal is to let them feel heard, and that their view of the matter is valid and understood. Sometimes that's all it takes. But most of the time, common ground needs to be sought after, and that can only be reached when both parties express their reasons for being upset and can then start to look at how they could've possibly had a hand in creating the workplace dissonance too. There's something to be said for personal responsibility and its power to melt away any further "look at what they did to me" arguments.

Once you have both sides of the story, you as a mediator, whether you're an HR professional or an interested manager, then you can sit everyone down in a room and get to work with the task at hand.

Workplace conflict resolution strategies

  1. Speak calmly, respectfully and politely.
  2. If emotions get high, see rule #1.
  3. Try not to interrupt one another. If one person is speaking, let them finish before making your point.
  4. Attack the problem, not one another. Separate the person from the problem.
  5. If you need to, agree to disagree.
  6. Try to stay away from generalities, and deal in specifics.
  7. Above all, maintain an interest in working together harmoniously, and don't leave the room until everyone is satisfied that can be achieved.

Key takeaways on workplace conflict and resolution

The modern workplace has significant levels of stress and conflict. Many workplaces undergo constant reorganization and change, leading to further stress and conflict. It is imperative to work as a team to achieve the collective goals of your company and the professionals working there. Conflict resolution in the workplace is an essential part of that equation.