How To Prevent And Address Workplace Conflict

Robin Schwartz

How To Prevent And Address Workplace Conflict

Many issues can be avoided if the expectations of an organization, team or project are communicated clearly and in advance. Miscommunication or confusion is often a cause of conflict between colleagues or supervisors.

Preventing Workplace Conflicts

Clarify Expectations

Be sure that an employee’s job duties are clearly defined. This helps to avoid the “that’s not my job” trap that many co-workers fall in. Conflict around job duties usually comes from staff not knowing what is expected of them or feeling like they already do more than others.

Don’t neglect to discuss the expectations of the position and the company. Managers can avoid awkward confrontation down the road if they provide employees with the right resources from the beginning. Expectations might include dress code, work hours, taking time off, etc.

The expected behavior of employees should also be clear. Different beliefs, cultures, personality and opinions can become conflict landmines. All employees should understand what is and is not appropriate in the workplace.

Provide Training and Resources

Experiencing conflict can be uncomfortable but ignoring conflict almost always causes it to get worse. Companies should provide employees and managers the skills to effectively communicate with each other and diffuse conflict. Trainings might focus on communication styles or unconscious bias.

Managers and leadership may need to be given advanced training on how to serve as mediators during times of conflict. The manager may be the first person an employee comes to when having an issue with other staff members. Occasionally, managers will be present during active conflict between two employees and will need to know how to diffuse the situation.

If there is an issue between co-workers, there should be a clear process for them to follow. Your organization would benefit from having dedicated staff to help employees discuss issues and come to a resolution. If nothing else, employees should know who they can turn to for help.

Communicating With Employees

When there is a lack of information or the circulation of misinformation, conflicts may arise between co-workers or within the supervisory relationship. Management and leadership should regularly communicate any changes in priorities, workflow, or expectations with all employees. Conflict and confusion often go hand-in-hand. By holding regular meetings or information sessions, you can be sure all employees have the same facts.

Addressing Workplace Conflicts

Stay Calm

Being in conflict with someone can be a frustrating situation. In some cases, it may seem that there is no way to fix the issue or the other person. Even in the most aggravating situations, it’s important to remain calm. Once conflict starts to escalate into raised voices or snarky emails, no one is really prepared to listen to what the other person is trying to say.

If you feel that you are too emotional to address the conflict in way that might help to create resolution, step away for a little while. You can’t ignore the problem but you also shouldn’t allow yourself to get engaged if emotions are running too high.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to provide feedback to the speaker and restate what they heard in their own words. It allows for open dialog between the two parties in conflict and often results the parties “feeling heard” as their issues and concerns are paraphrased back to them. This technique can be used “in the moment” or as soon as conflict arises.

Active listening enforces how critical it is to pay attention to others when they are speaking or communicating with you to avoid misunderstandings. This technique can be used by two colleagues engaged in conflict or by a supervisor trying to mediate the conflict for the employees.

Active listening encourages employees to communicate issues, thoughts, concerns and feelings, which is an important step in reducing workplace conflict. By taking time to “hear” what issues the employees are having, it’s likely you can keep the conflict from escalating.

Find Agreement

Instead of focusing on what you cannot or do not agree on, try finding things you can agree on. Talk to the other person about ideas or concerns they have that you like or also share. This will help you to focus on finding common ground rather than what you disagree on.

Many times, the problems we have aren’t limited to just us. You may be surprised to find that the co-worker you are in conflict with shares your concerns and struggles. Finding agreement alone won’t solve a conflict, but it will put employees in the mindset to look for solutions instead of dwelling on the problem.

Conflict at work is uncomfortable and can get in the way of getting the job done. Ignoring issues or problems almost never solves them. Instead, employees can practice techniques that reduce situations as they are happening. Companies and leaders can do their part to prevent workplace conflict by giving employees the resources they need to navigate difficult conversation and people.

About The Author

Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz has nearly a decade of experience providing HR expertise to employees and management in higher education. Her broad experience includes benefits, compensation, performance management, employee relations, payroll, talent acquisition and management. She received her masters degree from American Military University and maintains a PHR certification.

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