While conflict is inevitable in any workplace, it can lead to low morale, decreased productivity, and low employee retention rates. Research shows that employees involved in workplace conflicts lose approximately 2.8 hours weekly, resulting in $359 billion paid in unproductive hours. Also, 24% of employees feel less motivated and extremely uncomfortable during workplace conflict. By implementing proactive conflict resolution strategies, businesses, employers, and organizations can promote a healthy, positive work environment that fosters collaboration, productivity, and job satisfaction. Here are eight effective strategies for resolving workplace conflicts.
Sometimes workplace conflicts arise due to vague responsibilities and ambiguous rules and regulations. Businesses without explicitly codified rules governing appropriate workplace communication and behavior cannot expect their workers to always know what is right and wrong. Setting clear rules governing the workspace is important, even in the face of common sense and general courtesy. This way, when unnecessary office disputes arise, the parties involved will know what lines not to cross. When setting these regulations, develop a clear chain of command and define everyone's duties and responsibilities. It's also best to display those rules publicly as a constant reminder.
As an employer, your first move may be to address conflicts immediately after they arise. But considering how much they can eat into work productivity, you should pick your battles wisely. Contrary to what you may think, not every workplace issue or disagreement requires you to address them - at least, not formally. Some conflicts resolve themselves with changes in employment, job responsibilities, or work roles. Other conflicts are unimportant, especially when they don't slow down productivity. But regardless of the type of conflict, your first step should be to weigh the severity and decide whether you need to address the issue immediately.
If you've decided that the issue is worth your time and effort, address it immediately without wasting any time. The last thing you want to do is let a serious issue fester, as it may develop into something even worse, costing your business significant losses. Even worse, delaying addressing the issue could lead to several retaliatory acts from the involved parties. And that could bury the root cause of the conflict even deeper. You'll then have to deal with a toxic work environment filled with heightened emotions and broken relationships - a recipe for disaster. Immediately addressing the conflict will increase your chances of mending the broken relationships with minimal damage. It will also make it easier to find the right solution.
Moving the conflicting parties to a private and safe space can encourage open and sincere communication away from the public. Many people hesitate to open up in the glaring view of others and will only become corporative in private. Such a space also allows you to take risks to encourage honest communication regarding the issue. You can pick an unused room or office in your workplace or a neutral location outside the office environment.
This conflict resolution strategy requires you to listen carefully and patiently to each party's words without taking sides or drawing premature conclusions. Avoid interrupting when the other person presents their side of the story to ensure you don't miss important details. After listening, rephrase what the other party said to make sure you understood everything, then ask further questions to clarify your understanding of the issue or bone of contention. Careful listening can help you identify misunderstandings that might have led to the conflict. For example, it can help you distinguish between or clarify impact vs intent. That's because, sometimes, an action with good intentions can have the wrong impact, and carefully listening can help you sort out the misunderstanding.
After listening to both sides of the story and identifying the source of conflict, you must immediately determine and implement the solution. Usually, at this point, all the parties involved in the conflict would've heard and understood each other's side, and it's easier to resolve the issues through dialogue at this stage. But if an open dialogue isn't enough, you should help the conflicting parties negotiate a reasonable solution. Of course, this step will take time, patience, and effort, as the parties must set aside their differences and find common ground.
Don't fold your arms and relax after identifying the solution, expecting the issue to disappear immediately. You need to closely monitor the parties involved in the conflict and their progress in implementing the solution. Some parties may pretend to settle their differences in your presence only to pick up where they left off. If that happens, the solution you identified did not work. Make sure you continue to monitor the conflicting parties. But do so subtly so they don't realize they're being monitored. People will keep positive appearances as long as they know they're being watched.
Prevention is always better than cure. And you can find ways to prevent or minimize the risk of conflicts in your workplace. One way is to facilitate communication and bonding. Of course, that does not mean that misunderstandings will not occur. It only means such misunderstandings will be rare. You can minimize conflicts in your workplace by encouraging your workers to accept, tolerate and address their differences in healthy ways. Workers should keep their misunderstandings civil, even if one party has already crossed the line.
Another way is to avoid hiring people with a history of conflict in their previous workplaces. You can do background checks into an applicant's past employment and find out how they related with their previous employers and colleagues. If your checks reveal a toxic character, they'll likely bring that behavior to your workplace.
Workplace conflicts can harm your business operations, but you can settle them with the right conflict resolution strategies. Hopefully, you’ll consider those above to ensure a more peaceful and productive workplace.