Workplace Conflict: How to Manage and Harness it
Article revised on 6 June 2018
In all organizations, even those with a culture of harmony and respect, conflict between co-workers is inevitable. In fact, 89% of employees have experienced a workplace conflict that has escalated. Why? Simply because we’re all human and we’re all different. So you, as a manager, have to deal with it in the right way. Here are a few tips on how to manage and harness it to create a harmonious and productive workplace.
Numerous sources of conflict
Because interpersonal relationships are a normal part of any working environment, the sources of conflict are varied. They may lead to tension in relations, altercations and sometimes even inappropriate remarks or unacceptable behaviour. Some of the most common sources are:
- Problems in the way the organization or the team functions: poorly defined roles, uneven distribution of tasks, unclarified objectives, etc.
- Personality traits: vulnerability to criticism, lack of motivation, perfectionism, etc.
- The corporate culture and values: confrontations with regard to values, religious beliefs, political opinions, preconceived ideas.
When conflict breaks out…
Unresolved conflict never goes away. Over time, it can create other conflicting situations that are more intense and more difficult to resolve. For that reason, it is definitely in your interest to manage it quickly.
- Recognize that a disagreement exists. Acknowledging it is already a step in the right direction. If it is ignored, it will only persist.
- Call a meeting with the employees concerned, and give them an opportunity to give their side of the story. Doing so will allow you to determine the origin and nature of the conflict and enable you to deal with it adequately. By having an opportunity to state their point of view, the employees will be more inclined to explain their actions and even resolve a problem that might simply stem from a misunderstanding.
- Adopt an objective, open and positive attitude in order to create space to establish a compromise, as well as a climate that lends itself to negotiation and trust.
- If a compromise is not found and you feel that the situation might worsen, act as a mediator or ask someone from the outside (including a qualified professional) to support you.
It’s better to prevent conflict than have to eliminate it
As a manager, you can take the initiative and establish ways of warding off certain types of conflict that can easily be prevented. For example:
- Create job descriptions that are clear and unambiguous. There’s nothing worse than having grey areas between one person’s tasks and those of another. All employees need to know their exact job description. Then, if a problem arises, it will be easier for you to trace the origin and objectively deal with each person’s point of view.
- Develop clear policies and rules concerning the way that work is organized, and use them! Repetitive delays and absences, carelessness, loss of time… If one employee’s inadequate behaviour is having a negative impact on the other team members, intervene promptly and resolve the situation. Policies with regard to schedules, absences and performance are good bases for treating employees fairly.
- Communicate! It’s the key to good working relations. Frank, open, respectful communication generally makes it possible to defuse tricky situations.
Employees who collaborate and get along with each other remain engaged and have a high performance level. It’s normal for altercations and differences of opinion to occur in a working environment. There’s nothing more human than experiencing emotions and experiencing concerns that could develop into disagreements. The important thing is to not remain passive and to practice authentic communication.
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