Workplace conflict can be caused by anything from differences in individuals’ personalities and style to disagreements over the direction of given ideas and activities. It can even be the result of an office romance.
But unresolved conflict can lead to a loss of productivity, increased employee stress levels, less effective collaboration and team-problem solving as well as general distrust and poor employee engagement. As a result, here are five ways to try and tackle the situation:
1. Understand why the conflict needs managing
Having a good grasp of the risks of inaction will ensure that you commit to managing the situation effectively. Conflict can be positive if it is constructive as it can lead to healthy debate, the sharing of views and ideas, different needs being addressed and relationships being built. If not managed properly, however, conflict is destructive and divisive, limiting communication, affecting people’s self-esteem and confidence as well as their ability to do their jobs. It can also lead to increased absence and turnover.
2. Learn to recognise the signs
While a screaming punch-up is usually a bit of a giveaway, conflict situations may not always be as obvious as you think. But people blaming each other for problems, forming allegiances and alliances with colleagues, taking 'sides', exchanging verbal volleys across a meeting table or not communicating directly at all, can all be symptoms of a deeper conflict.
3. Speak to both parties separately before trying to bring them together to mediate between them
Find out each individual’s issues before moving on to a facilitated joint discussion that should have ground rules (such as no swearing, interrupting, raised voices etc). Encourage both parties to be open and honest.
4. Separate the person from the problem
Conflict is usually personal, but it is important to depersonalise it so that people can start to become more objective and less emotional. Do this by differentiating between facts, feelings and perceptions. People may be acting on emotion or on inaccurate perceptions or views that they have of each other so it's important to ask the right questions in order to establish the facts. Focus on what actually happened, what was seen, what was heard – not rumours, opinions and the like.
5. Avoid conflict arising in the first place
Prevention is better than cure. So encourage an open, trusting and respectful culture and train staff in the capabilities that they need for this such as garnering feedback and developing questioning and listening skills. Reflect this mindset in your company values, codes of conduct etc. Clear processes and procedures for dealing with grievances, disputes and the like will help, but again ensure that people are well-equipped to implement them effectively. Train managers in mediation skills and promote internal mediation schemes so that everyone knows that conflicts will be dealt with properly and effectively.
Tara Daynes, founder and director of HR consultancy, Tara Daynes HR.