Conflict at work, as in any social or organisational setting, is unavoidable.
Conflict occurs when there is a difference of interests or opinions between two parties. People often perceive conflict as negative however, when handled well conflict can be an opportunity to improve workplace outcomes, strengthen relationships, and boost creativity. When handled poorly or left unresolved however, research has found that conflict can lead to lower levels of workplace morale, productivity, sales, cooperation and collaboration, higher staff turnover and incurs a significant cost each year.
Conflict is so common and prevalent in the workplace, that research from Queensland Government has found that 65% of employee performance problems are the result of strained relationships. In addition, over 30% of managers’ time is spent dealing with disputes.
The ability to recognise, understand and resolve conflict effectively is an important skill in the workplace and particularly important among workplace leaders.
Therefore, this month we are focusing on how to manage conflict effectively in the workplace.
In order to understand the conflict, we first must analyse the source of the conflict to gain perspective.
Four main types of conflict in the workplace:
Factors that influence conflict can include mental illness, personality styles, skills deficit, and prior history with each other. Workplace factors, such as scarce resources and general organisational problems may affect workplace conflict too.
Once you understand your tendencies towards handling conflict as well as your counterpart’s tendencies – you can then learn how to effectively manage this conflict. For example, if you’re both avoiders, one of you will need to take the lead. However, if you are both seekers, you will need to focus on taking breaks to de-escalate the emotions in the conflict.
There are four different ways of managing conflict in the workplace:
Positives: ideal when you don’t think addressing the conflict will change anything, you have very little energy to deal with the conflict as takes little effort.
Negatives: it can be frustrating to put aside your feelings, can reinforce bad behaviour.
Address conflict indirectly (e.g. ask someone to address the issue on your behalf)
Positives: is useful when you feel that your colleague may be more willing to take feedback from someone else.
Negatives: can be ineffective if the counterpart doesn’t listen to someone else or understand your meaning, can be seen as backhanded.
Address conflict directly (e.g. talk directly about the issue to your counterpart)
Positives: useful when you have tried other tactics and they have not worked, can make your connection with that person stronger, can improve your work performance if you are able to take on the other person’s views
Negatives: might be perceived as aggressive or combative.
Exit the relationship (e.g. quit your job, move departments – often the last resort)
Positives: can give you a sense of relief, protect you from wasting more time, energy and stress.
Negatives: would require a lot of work from you to change departments/jobs, may hurt other relationships, could be perceived as you being difficult to work with.
Conflict, when left unresolved, can be detrimental at work to our happiness, work performance, and wellbeing. However, if managed effectively it can bring with it increased creativity, leadership opportunities, and stronger relationships. So why not use some of these tips in your workplace and see what a difference effective conflict resolution can make to you and others.