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Managing conflict within the workplace

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.

UNDERSTANDING CONFLICT

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. 

UNDERSTAND YOUR NATURAL CONFLICT STYLE

Generally, there are two types of people in conflict situations:

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.

RESPONDING TO CONFLICT

There are four different ways of managing conflict in the workplace:

Do Nothing

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.

TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE CONFLICT

  • Prepare: the more you prepare, the more effective your conflict resolution will be
  • Adopt an open, non-threatening approach: check the tone and volume of your voice, avoid accusatory statements
  • Acknowledge your counterpart’s emotions and perspective: listen to your counterpart! The more we acknowledge emotions, the more people will feel heard and listen to you in return
  • Seek common ground: E.g., “we both want to perform well on this project”
  • Choose the right place: if you choose to address your conflict, make sure that it is the right time and place – a packed lunch room might not be the most appropriate option
  • Be solution-focused: enter a discussion of conflict with multiple solutions to present in order to reach resolution more quickly
  • Take a break: be willing to walk away and cool down if conflict becomes too escalated, in order to resolve conflict, we need to feel calm and rash
  • Sleep on it: before you respond to conflict, take 24 hours to cool off, go home and gain some clarity in the process instead of being rash.
  • Vent: make sure you talk about your frustrations to someone else to effectively manage your anger before entering the discussion with your counterpart
  • Ask for help: some conflict is incredibly difficult to resolve on your own.

LAST WORDS

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.

 

If you or someone close to you needs support, contact Acacia Connection for an appointment.

P: 1300 364 273 | Text or Live Chat: 0401 337 711 | W: acaciaconnection.com