Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, even with the most agreeable personalities. The average American spends well over 2,000 hours at work over the course of a year. When employees of various backgrounds and different work styles are brought together to work on the same project with the same goal, the conflict will be a natural byproduct. Not all conflict is bad, however, and all conflict can and should be managed and resolved. If handled correctly, confronting conflict head-on will result in a stronger culture and closer teams.

Interested in learning how to increase productivity amongst your employees? Read, “Increasing Employee Motivation.

3 Types of Conflict in the Workplace

First, it’s important to be able to spot the three main types of conflict before we can focus on managing them. Each type of conflict needs a slightly altered approach when confronting it.

  1. Task conflict: Involves issues around work assignments and how resources are divided up. It can also involve differences in procedures, managing expectations at work, and judgments and interpretation of facts.

  2. Relationship conflict: Has to do with differences in personality, taste, and even conflict styles. It’s no surprise that this occurs because people who would not ordinarily meet in real life are often working long hours together.

  3. Value conflict: Arises from differences in values and identity including but not limited to differences in politics, religion, ethics, norms, and other deeply held beliefs.

Importance of Code of Conduct for Employees

Simply having a definition for what establishes acceptable behavior is a major step in avoiding workplace conflict. Making a system for decision making, encouraging open collaboration, team building, leadership training and development, and careful hiring will all help avoid workplace conflict. It’s important to have clearly defined responsibilities so everyone knows what’s expected from them.

It is equally important to have a clearly laid out chain of command to allow for effective communication. In other words, define workplace rules clearly and publicly make it known what will or will not be tolerated. Removing assumptions will drastically reduce the risk of conflict in the workplace.

Resolving Conflict in the Workplace Head-On

  • Meet face-to-face: Dealing with conflict in person is incredibly important. Email, Slack, and phone calls all offer more opportunities for communication breakdowns than an in-person meeting.
  • Know your boundaries: Everyone deals with conflict differently, so you must know the risks and rewards of conflict resolution within the boundaries of each of your employees. Help others know when they tend to cross the line through careful observation; identify behavioral tendencies that seem to trigger certain attitudes, provoke mindset shifts, or demonstrate a lack of self-awareness.
  • Choose the right time: Timing is everything when it comes to managing conflict, and the best time to take action is when there is hard evidence/proof that an employee has a track record of wrongdoing that is negatively impacting the performance of others.
  • Have a natural conversation: Writing down a few bullet points or talking points can be helpful, but avoid ambushing your coworkers with a long script. The goal is to be inviting a dialogue.
  • Remain respectful: Rather than impose your influence, hierarchy or rank – respect the unique differences in people and learn to see things from differing points of view so you can better understand how to avoid conflict in the future.
  • Focus on what you could have done better: Offering an example of how you could have done better creates an open environment for others to evaluate their own behavior. If you’re in leadership, doing this often will strengthen the culture of the team.
  • Communicate the takeaways: The goal of confronting conflict should be to improve team dynamics, process, and culture. It’s important that both parties show a commitment to growth.

Importance of HR Management for Conflict in the Workplace

Having a dedicated Human Resources employee or team is critical to an employee-oriented, productive workplace in which employees are engaged and feel valued. HR teams are tasked with a number of objectives such as monitoring culture, talent management, hiring, maintaining employee benefits, and much more. When it comes to managing conflict in the workplace, HR teams advocate for employees who have a conflict with management and executives who seek a more effective approach to working with particular employees. Everyone operates differently, and an HR officer is often trained to help in this particular situation.

Check out our HR blog series for additional blog posts on relevant topics for your business and employees. At Society, our people make the biggest difference; learn more about our career opportunities or get in touch with an agent today!


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