It takes a lot to lead people who have the same desire, dream, and vision. It is even more challenging to lead transformation and change in people who are deeply entrenched in tradition and have a rigid way of thinking.
As a result, it is not uncommon for conflict to arise in the marketplace due to a difference in opinion and communication styles. However, not all conflicts in the workplace are bad.
Healthy conflicts are good.
An absence of conflict is an indication that critical thinking and questioning existing processes are missing in the organization. It is a huge red flag that suggests every thought or behavior is heavily moderated by someone or some people who hate criticism of any kind.
But what happens when things go awry and no one is listening at all? How do you get back on track, strengthen weakened relationships, and resolve conflicts before they become catastrophic to the entire organization?
Here are 11 tips on how to resolve almost any conflict in the workplace:
1. Identify an Outcome for the Resolution
As you head into a conflict resolution meeting, the first thing you need to determine is what you want to achieve.
Unlike most relationships, not all conflict resolutions in the workplace end with hugs, handshakes, and selfies. With that said, your approach to conflict is going to differ depending on the outcome you want to achieve and/or your personality type.
There are different types of approaches to conflict resolution. These are:
- Collaborative: In the collaborative approach, both parties aren’t burning bridges or trying to drive the other to ruin. Instead, they mutually work together to discover the best practices and solutions to the problems they experience.
- Avoidance: This is very self-explanatory. With this approach, you ignore whispers, grunts, comments, and anything deemed offensive. Although the avoidance approach is not advised, it’s best used when stakes are very low and the relationships between both parties aren’t going to deteriorate.
- Accommodation: With this approach, you’re considering the other party’s needs as more important than yours at the moment and are willing to let them “win” to arrive at a peaceful solution. As this approach suggests, there is yielding from one party in the attempt to please the other.
- Compromise. Compromise means each side gets to make mutual concessions and are willing to work together to come up with a mutually pleasing outcome. With this approach, there is no loser as individuals or corporations strive for a balance with their demands.
So, the results of your resolution really depend on the degree of conflict, the type of conflict, and the outcome you want.
A disagreement between a company’s employees who belong to a union and the company’s management requires a different approach from interpersonal conflict between two employees in the same department.
The stakes and outcomes are different, which means that there might be a combination of 2 or more styles of approaches to conflict.
2. Set Some Rules
The adage that says it takes years to build relationships but few moments to ruin them is true.
As a result, there are rules for how to approach conflict in the workplace. It doesn’t matter how minor the conflict is, you need to set some rules for how to approach resolution.
Rules are not meant to be constraints; rather, they help you operate within the boundaries of strengths which often lead to favorable outcomes. When managing conflict among co-workers, it helps to have a set of standards that everyone adheres to.
It’s not just this; rules also provide a sense of security and assurance of fairness, something that is contradictory to the conflict in the first place.
Examples of such rules (depending on the degree of conflict) include:
- asking employees to temporarily step away from their positions;
- restricting authority granted to employees;
- subjecting all parties involved in a formal, linear process towards resolution.
3. Invest in Your Communication and Listening Skills
Conflict resolution depends on your ability to not only hear what’s been said but also to decipher the nuances of words, body language, ‘sighs,’ and even silence. Add in several variables like religion, cultural background, ethnicity, gender, and economic differences, and you have a complex case of epic misunderstandings.
This means that what an employee born in the United States finds assertive might be inappropriate for someone who was born and raised in a different country.
Your excellent communication and listening skills will enable you to step away from the societal norms and break away from patterns that pigeonhole your decision-making skills. It will also open you up to different perspectives so that you can identify cues for repairing strained relationships.
4. Hold Face-To-Face Meetings
Whenever you can, always aim for a face-to-face meeting. It is challenging to convey emotions through emails because the effect of nonverbal communication is lost behind computer screens and mobile phones.
When it comes to resolving conflict in the workplace, we don’t just speak and hope for the best to happen because we intend them that way. We engage all aspects of nonverbal communication.
Things like tone, vocal range, micro-expressions, and body language can communicate more than a simple “I apologize” in the body of an email.
5. Avoid Personal Attacks
While there could be intense emotional response to not being heard, it is important to discourage personal attacks during the process of conflict resolution. Rather than result to ad hominem attacks, you should adopt a better way to communicate your feelings.
Examples of how to do this include emphasizing the use of I-messages. With I-messages, you’re taking control of the dialogue and how the behavior made you feel.
So, instead of saying “You are so rude!” when addressing conflict, a better way to communicate your displeasure without diminishing how you feel would be “I feel disrespected when you chew your gum loudly while I’m teaching in class.”
The use of I-messages not only caters to your emotional needs, but it also encourages you to take responsibility by acknowledging how your actions could have contributed to the breakdown in the relationship.
6. Avoid Assigning Blame
Similar to the point above, assigning blame or taking sides is one sure way to dissolve a relationship faster than repairing one.
It is human to find fault in something or someone other than ourselves. However, the goal of conflict resolution is to reduce the likelihood of shouting matches of who’s to blame, and this starts by taking responsibility.
In an article by Make A Dent Leadership, two types of stories in any conflict are identified:
One is the story we tell ourselves to justify what’s happening, and the second story is one you tell yourself about others.
These stories can either put you under a blameless spotlight or label others in a negative light. But for conflict resolution to take place, assigning blame is not an option.
7. Hire an External Mediator
Sometimes, conflict in the workplace is so intense that both parties can’t seem to find a middle ground. That’s okay. In this case, it is worth it to hire an external mediator.
A mediator is someone who is trained in the areas of conflict management and negotiation and a skilled facilitator for many cases.
According to the American Bar Association, a mediator is often needed when settlements are at a stall. Not only is a mediator often required by the court sometimes, but it is also less expensive and doesn’t involve a drawn-out process a normal trial would.
8. Find Common Ground
Finding common ground means searching for ideas, interests, and beliefs shared by both opposing parties and using this to open the lines of communication for further negotiation.
This sounds easy but is actually quite challenging to put to practice. If it were this easy, there would be no reports of conflict between people, corporations, and nations.
However, when everything else fails, finding common ground can be the very thing that brings opposing parties back to the table to negotiate a mutually beneficial solution.
9. Stick to the Facts
It’s easy to fall into the trap of digging up events that happened days, months, or years ago in an attempt to shift blame to a different party. But this only makes things worse.
No matter how tempting it is to emphasize how emotionally hurt a behavior made you feel, the goal of conflict resolution is to focus on the facts instead of the interpretation of it.
For instance, if someone stepped on your toes while she was on her way to her cubicle, it should be stated as “Sarah stepped on my toes” not “Sarah tried to get me angry this morning.” This anger is an emotional response – an emotion you control, not Sarah.
10. Identify Barriers Preventing Change from Happening
According to HR Daily Advisor, identifying barriers to change helps you define what can be changed, what can’t, and how you can get around these roadblocks.
Organizations can hire the best mediators or personal development experts but until they recognize and address the barriers preventing change, all efforts to settle differences will fail.
Just like you can’t treat or administer medications without having a medical diagnosis, you can’t begin to change processes and ideas without unraveling why there is friction between both parties.
11. Initiate a Conflict Management Policy
Not every conflict in the workplace should degenerate into a full-blown newsworthy affair.
But to maintain an atmosphere of respect and mutual understanding in the workplace, there needs to be a documentation of acceptable behavior and steps to take should interpersonal conflict get out of hand.
These predictions of behaviors or expectations are usually contained in documents also known as policies or employee handbooks.
A conflict management policy is a lighthouse that helps you navigate disagreement of varying levels and stakes, and an organization should never be left without one.
The Bottom Line
It is perfectly normal to experience conflict. Healthy conflict inspires growth and innovation while drawing out the gifts inside of you.
The key is to recognize the shift from healthy to unhealthy and begin the steps to restore a balance to existing relationships.
More Tips on Resolving Conflict in the Workplace
- 7 Ground Rules for Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict at Work
- How To Handle Personality Conflicts At Work
- Conflict Management Styles for Effective Communication at Work
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