Dealing with conflict at work: Information for managers

14 June 2021
conflict at work and conflict resolution

Unfortunately, in this modern world, conflict is becoming more and more common. It’s everywhere: from our personal lives to our workplaces. With the rise in stress levels and adverse effects of mental health problems made worse by the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic, people are feeling the pressures of life more now than ever before. Some people may work in an industry whereby conflict is a by-product and so find it even harder to avoid conflict.

Conflict in any workplace environment is unproductive. It hurts individuals and changes the dynamic of an entire team, as well as reducing the overall output of the team in question. Conflict makes it difficult to focus on a task or collaborate with others involved in the situation. This in turn may even damage your brand’s reputation, lead to a high turnover of staff and lower job satisfaction levels for everyone.

Managers need to approach situations of conflict whilst considering an array of different factors. Having the skills and knowledge to deal with conflict can be the difference between escalation and de-escalation. By understanding the common triggers of conflict, the signs associated with conflict and the remedies for dealing with it, then you can increase your conflict toolkit and increase your ability to manage it with confidence.

Conflict is almost a natural part of human existence. At work however, it can be much more explosive than anywhere else. Workplace conflict is an inevitable part of working with each other and involves two or more people having different perspectives, objectives, values or interests and have a disagreement over a certain issue.

No one wants to be in a conflict situation. We all need to spend a significant portion of our days at work with our colleagues, and none of us want to face negativity on a daily basis.

If you’re currently dealing with conflict at work, or you want to improve your skills when dealing with everyday conflict, this article is for you.

What is workplace conflict?

Workplace conflict is when we find ourselves in a difficult situation with our colleagues. It could be between our immediate supervisor or colleagues working together in a team, colleagues from other teams, customers and clients, or even external contractors.

Conflict may occur when two or more individuals have different opinions regarding what should be done in a particular situation, and they fail to compromise on the solution. These disagreements and misunderstandings, if not facilitated or handled properly can escalate into ongoing conflict, blame culture or even workplace bullying.

Many people have experienced conflict with a co-worker. It is not pleasant experience and may even be frightening. We often spend as much time with our co-workers as we do our own families, so it’s daunting having to attend work every day if you have an ongoing disagreement with your colleague.

Identifying Workplace Conflict

Conflict can arise from differences of opinion, but whatever the source of the conflict, avoiding it should be a priority for all managers. This concern is further justified when it negatively affects the morale of employees and others present.

Firstly, managers need to recognise and identify any potential sources of conflict, signs of which could be:

  • Discrimination, bullying or harassment
  • Talking over others in meetings
  • Intentionally excluding someone from meetings or social events
  • Different working styles or personalities
  • Excessive ‘banter’ or jokes
  • Whispering and ‘secret’ conversations between colleagues
  • Persistent criticism or blaming others
  • Poor performance or consistently not meeting targets

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other signs of conflict. As a manager, you should be open and available for staff to approach you if they need to, as well as being integrally involved with the day-to-day work of your team.

Be aware that people will react to conflict differently, some people will immediately voice their displeasure, whereas others will sit quietly while they become progressively more annoyed over time. Therefore, you should build meaningful relationships with your team to better understand how they respond in different situations. This will help you identify potential scenarios that may cause conflict and strategically avoid them.

Methods for Managing Workplace Conflict

Regular 1-2-1 meetings

Managers should have regular 1-2-1 meetings with their team. This is a key opportunity for staff to mention anything that they’re struggling with at the moment. However, staff may not always be forthcoming in situations of conflict, so do you best to create an environment where people feel comfortable in sharing. Confidentiality and trust are key.

Monitor workplace relationships

As a manager, you need to be aware of any signs of conflict developing within your team. Managing your team members should be done equally with fairness and mutual respect, any signs of individual favouritism can lead to additional conflict and resentment.

Stay out of workplace gossip at all costs

Managers need to stay completely out of workplace gossip, without question. It’s hard enough for individuals being gossiped about without their managers joining in, this would only increase tensions and make the situation much worse.

As a manager, you need to actively discourage unprofessional behaviour, this includes setting an example to others.

When to intervene in conflict

When you’ve identified a situation of conflict in the workplace, or one that could develop into conflict, you should act as soon as possible without delay. Once you’ve identified an issue, do not let it fester away or escalate into something worse.

Firstly, encourage and allow everyone to talk independently and freely about how they’re feeling about the situation. Listen carefully, don’t make immediate decisions, jump to any conclusions, or take any sides when people are having their say.

Allow each person to speak individually and in private if required.

Next, you can establish what everyone wants to happen next, and what comprises are required in order to move forward. Communicate openly with everyone and encourage ongoing productive discussions, allowing everyone to have their say without being interrupted.

Finally, follow up with the individuals and team(s) involved afterwards to ensure that issues have been resolved. Sometimes, grievances will last beyond the resolution and need additional work to move forward.

That’s why conflict resolution training is so important for managers.

Formal procedures for managing conflict

Sadly, even if you’ve tried several methods to resolve conflict, sometimes situations cannot be resolved internally. If conflict has developed beyond internal resolution, then formal procedures may be necessary.

Disciplinaries can be used where a member of staff has behaved inappropriately, or external mediation can be used to handle difficult conversations.

Formal procedures like disciplinaries should only be used as a last resort, when other methods to resolve the situation have been unsuccessful.

Learn more about workplace conflict resolution

We provide a professional training session on conflict resolution that you can complete during your own time using our exclusive Interactive Learning Environment.

Our expert-led conflict resolution training course is ideal for you if you’re required to deal with conflict at work or if you want to improve your skills when dealing with everyday conflict.

Learn more here.

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