The Best Way To Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

resolve conflict in the workplace

Dealing with disagreements head-on is no doubt the best way to resolve conflict in the workplace, but it’s a delicate and sensitive matter. Leadership and HR teams have pondered for decades whether or not to tackle disagreements directly, or pretend they never happened and expect the employees to carry on with their duties. 

That, however, was a typically 20th century approach. There is more than enough modern literature out there to support the notion that conflicts in the workplace need to be addressed directly, otherwise they pose a risk of eroding an organisation’s culture and even profits, if they are left unaddressed. 

To make things worse, the problem has now been compounded by the fact that a number of organisations are operating remotely, and while less face-to-face interactions can reduce tensions, remote working can also cause misunderstandings, miscommunications and breed resentment that HR might not even be aware of. 

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One report says that more than $359 billion in paid hours – or the equivalent of 385 million workdays are lost each year due to workplace conflict, which goes to show the scale of the problem, and the risks of leaving conflict unaddressed in your organisation. 

The question remaining, however, is how best to resolve conflict in the workplace, and what are the things you should avoid when it comes to these difficult, but profoundly important conversations.

The Best Way to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace 

Last week, we mapped out the pros and cons of both avoiding and tackling workplace conflict head-on. Our analysis found that management teams were best served by a strategy that addressed disagreements and personality disputes quickly and directly.

The University of California, San Diego has published its 8-pillar strategy when it comes to dealing with conflict in the workplace. UC San Diego says it’s essential to: 

  • Talk with the other party
  • Focus on behaviour and events, not individual personalities
  • Listen to the other party carefully
  • Identify any points of agreement and map out points of disagreement
  • Prioritise the areas of conflict that are most pressing 
  • Develop a plan to work on each area of conflict 
  • Implement and follow-through on the conflict management plan
  • Build on, and celebrate any small successes 

We can see, then, that management and HR teams have a huge role to play in sorting out workplace conflict. Rather than create an individual plan for each conflict, time could be saved in creating a conflict management strategy that allows each party involved to map out their complaints and follow a systematic approach to resolving them. 

HR Cloud builds upon this with their approach  to resolving conflict in the workplace, adding seven of their own points. The author states that it’s imperative that leaders and HR teams: 

  • Clarify the source of conflict
  • Find a safe and private space to communicate, away from colleagues
  • Listen actively, and allow each party to vent their frustrations
  • Investigate the situation objectively
  • Determine ways each party can work toward a common goal
  • Develop a tailor-made solution for the problem, outline responsibilities for each party
  • Take time to evaluate how each party is tracking

What Does a Conflict Resolution Plan Look Like?

This is the area that leadership teams must start pulling their weight. They might not have any control over how, when, where and why the conflict started, but they have immense power over how the situation is going to be resolved. Leaders are the moderators of the discussion, the relationship coach between two feuding members of staff and the single source of inspiration for those employees if they are to stay in your organisation. 

It’s important to remember that leaders have an obligation to create both a sense of self and belonging within the organisation. More than 80% of conflicts in the workplace originate from personality clashes in the workplace, so with this in mind, maintain a conflict resolution plan that acts to eliminate egos from the equation and encourages staff buying into the wider vision and mission of that organisation. 

Your conflict resolution plan should be tailor-made for your operations, your staff size and should reflect the values of your organisation and represent the best version of your culture. If you’re a progressive organisation, you should look to innovative, direct and even experimental means to address workplace conflict. If you’re a more traditional workplace, think about how you can deal with this in the most direct, but private fashion. 

An effective conflict resolution plan maps out:

  • The parties involved in the dispute 
  • The reasons why
  • Map out any differences in working styles
  • Explore any potential external sources of stress that the organisation can help with
  • Encourage a compromise, or find some middle ground that each party agrees to 
  • Incentivise collaboration between the parties 
  • Ask each party what they want out of the situation 
  • A plan should try – wherever possible – to build from a place of neutrality 
  • Generate possible solutions or strategies that minimise the potential of personality clashes 
  • Evaluate, update and make key changes to the plan as it plays out in your organisation

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The Dos and Don’ts of Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

Do: 

  • Outline the problem, issue or grievances
  • Acknowledge an individual’s working style and emotions in the workplace
  • Establish a timeframe 
  • Listen actively, do not allow interruptions
  • Expect discipline from your employees 
  • Moderate conversations with a neutral third-party if leadership position is compromised
  • Monitor how the conflict resolution plan is being followed 
  • Look for collaborative ways to resolve conflict 

Don’t 

  • Avoid tough conversations 
  • Attempt to resolve conflicts in front of colleagues
  • Make any quick decisions
  • Talk over the parties involved
  • Communicate sensitive information to other staff about the conflict 
  • Expect them to sit up, shut up and get back to working as normal without a conflict resolution plan 

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