The first step to resolving workplace conflict

by Winnie Onyekwere

Conflicts are undoubtedly a natural part of life, particularly in the workplace. Managing a team with different interests, agendas and needs, leaders may find themselves in the midst of two or more team members disagreeing. Team conflict is healthy, it produces creativity, relieves tension and keeps a balance within. Conflict must be professional and with respect otherwise, chaos can ensue.

Chaotic work environments usually include several of these examples:

  • Teams or their members not communicating or listening to others’ ideas
  • Increases in employee absences
  • Poor work/life balance
  • Creating a poor work environment to fit with one persons ‘way of working’
  • Low employee morale due to:
    • Lack of opportunity
    • Overburdened with responsibilities
    • failure to maintain 121s with staff
    • Continuing long working hours
    • Missed deadlines or targets
    • Unhappy clients
    • Being micro-managed
    • Employees feel a disconnect between leaders, managers & staff

This ultimately leads to poor performance, lack of productivity, segmentation within the business and the inability to achieve business goals.

Typically, the main reasons for workplace conflict include:

  • Unfair treatment/lack of equal opportunities
  • Poor communication
  • Poor management
  • Unclear job roles
  • Clashing personalities

A leader’s natural reaction when a problem arises is to declare that there is no issue. Typically, they don’t see the need to get involved with the conflict. It’s not like they don’t wish to deal with it, they don’t even see the problem past its face value. A lot of the time, it’s what led up to the problem or that it’s a reoccurring problem that the leader wouldn’t be aware of. However, there are usually signs that we can pick up on. When staff see the issue is not addressed or avoided by a leader, it only adds to worsen the conflict and may result in staff bringing more employees into the conflict to feel heard and gain support. This results in a negative climate of caution, missing meetings, not getting involved with the discussion, procrastination, foot-dragging, allowing others to run with the conflict, whilst leaders may then be seen by others as uncaring, or not wanting to pick a side. For some leaders, they may believe it’s not their responsibility to get involved, they might feel like they’re too busy, whatever the reason, inaction will inevitably cause the conflict to escalate.

Simple step leaders can follow to resolve conflicts in the workplace smartly is to acknowledge the conflict a set time aside to help resolve it.

The initial stage is to develop creative thoughts on how to get things back on track. The cue is to act rather than to react. An effective leader is more likely to engage in dialogue that is going to lead to productive outcomes and emotional safety. So the first step is to approach everyone involved in the conflict individually and explore what the problems are. A safe environment should be created for each party to the conflict, express their issues, concerns, and release frustrations openly and honestly. Part of acknowledgement is the skill of the leader to demonstrate active listening skills, the objective being to hear all sides of the conflict whilst refraining from passing judgment. At this initial stage, the concern should be one of communication that shows concern to start rebuilding the relationships and engagement which is going to be responsive to the leadership.

If you want to learn more about conflict resolution or team management as a whole, get in touch.