Conflict is always uncomfortable, but when it occurs in the workplace, there’s added tension and stress. Everyone reacts to conflict differently, and while some employees may freeze or attempt to avoid conflict entirely, others may get angry and abrupt, creating a highly uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.
For employees to successfully work together as a team, they need to be comfortable with each other, and an unresolved conflict can inhibit their productivity, morale, and even their feelings of safety. Conflicts will occur in the workplace, but understanding why they’re happening and having the necessary skills to resolve them can help to keep everyone feeling comfortable so that the workplace is a safe and productive environment.
How and Why Workplace Conflict Occurs
It’s important to understand that workplace conflict is normal, and it’s something that every workplace will encounter at some point. In business, many people with diverse backgrounds come together and are expected to work alongside each other. They also spend a great deal of time together, and with the structure of most workplaces, employees sometimes depend on each other in order to be able to complete their own work successfully. This naturally leads to situations where conflict can occur.
Conflict in the workplace can take on many forms, but some of the most common types of conflict include:
- Independence conflicts where one worker relies on another worker’s contribution to be successful in their own work.
- Differences in work styles and preferences.
- Disagreements caused by different backgrounds, educations, genders, personal experiences, and age.
- Leadership style differences.
- Character and personality clashes and differences.
Workplace conflict doesn’t always arise between employees, or even between employees and supervisors, either. Sometimes, this conflict develops between a business and a client. While the commonly accepted phrase, “the customer is always right,” implies that businesses need to maintain a business-client relationship at all costs, sometimes that becomes impractical or impossible.
Business-client conflicts can occur for many reasons, but some of the most common issues that arise are when a client frequently delays payment, displays rude or disrespectful behavior toward the business, or breaches the signed contract. In these situations, a business can exhaust their time and resources trying to satisfy a client who just can’t be satisfied. Often, it is best to let this type of client go in a professional, respectful manner. Businesses also need to make sure that they follow the terms of the contract when ending the agreement to protect themselves from potential legal backlash.
Strategies to Handle Common Workplace Conflicts
Depending on the situation, sometimes it’s best to allow employees to hash out conflicts on their own. Employees who work as a team need to learn to agree to disagree, and by allowing them to have conversations about the issue at hand, they can often get to the root of the problem and resolve it so the whole team can work together and be productive. This strategy allows a manager to effectively handle conflict without becoming the “bad guy.”
This type of approach will only work for some situations, and sometimes it’s necessary for a supervisor to step in. There are many different ways to help resolve conflict, and having a background in or understanding of these strategies can leave a supervisor well-equipped to handle the issues that may arise. For instance, one approach to conflict resolution might take the following progression:
- Acknowledge conflict and let employees see if they can work it out amongst themselves first. If the issue isn’t resolved, it’s time to take action.
- Schedule a meeting so that the supervisor and involved employees can talk. Allow each employee to express their concerns and frustrations.
- Listen attentively and ask clarifying questions if needed with a focus on gaining understanding, rather than on passing judgment.
- Look for points of agreement and areas that the employees have in common.
- Guide the conversation with a focus on mediating, rather than on taking sides.
- Acknowledge any hurt feelings and encourage employees to apologize to each other.
Despite your best efforts, it’s also important to keep in mind that resolving conflict doesn’t always end with all employees happily returning to their work. Sometimes, resignation, termination, or discipline is needed to come to a resolution. In these situations, both the employer and the employee need to fully understand the processes and company policies around resignation, termination, or discipline. If both the employer and employee can approach these solutions professionally, they can minimize the stress surrounding these situations so that the employee and the workplace can both move on.
Advanced Strategies for Difficult Workplace Situations
For particularly challenging workplace situations, workplace conflict resolution coaching can help to establish a solution and allow the workplace to move forward productively again. Coaching can help professionals learn how to best deliver difficult messages, understand when it’s important to address a conflict, and equip them with some conflict resolution skills that they can use in multiple tough situations.
Workplace conflicts can and will happen, but being prepared with some resolution strategies can help to minimize the conflict and quickly arrive at a solution that works for everyone involved.