Conflict resolution is an essential skill for any leader, especially when it comes to building a stable, healthy working environment. When conflict goes unresolved it often festers into something greater and leads directly to stifled productivity and creativity, deflated morale, and poor cooperation and collaboration. Plus, unresolved workplace conflict often causes employees to leave in search of a better environment, with less resentment and stress.
Workplace conflict is normal and unavoidable of course. It’s the result of any combination of many different factors including opposing opinions, jealousy, ego, compensation issues, emotions, competition and power struggles, but mostly, it can often comes down to poor communication. That being said, here are five tips for resolving conflict:
- Define Acceptable Behavior in The Workplace
As mentioned above, often times conflict arises as a result of poor communication, plain and simple. When employees are left to make assumptions about what’s acceptable and what is not, it can lead to trouble. Having clearly defined acceptable behavior in the form of a company manual or set of values, will go a long way to preventing conflict in the first place. And when people know what is and is not acceptable based on those values, it will be easier to resolve conflicts when they inevitably arise.
- Practice Clear, Concise Communication & Transparency
Outside of simply defining what is and is not acceptable in the workplace, up-front, ongoing clear, concise communication and transparency is another sound approach to managing conflict. When employees feel out of the loop, it often leads to workplace gossip and speculation, and often times, fear and resentment. Nip this trend in the bud by being clear and transparent about what’s happening in the workplace. What the goals of the company are, how they may be shifting, and how you’re going about achieving them. And when big changes come around that will directly affect your employees, prepare them by clearly explaining the changes and how they’ll be affected by them as well as their job descriptions, their pay, and the expectations of their managers.
- Make Active Listening a Habit
Listening is an incredibly important part of effective communication. When confronting the conflict, pay attention, ask questions and really try to understand the other person’s perspective. Acknowledge and respect their opinions and stay focused on arriving at a resolution instead of making it personal and further escalating the issue into something bigger. Oftentimes part of the communication breakdown is one party feeling disenfranchised or misunderstood. Show them the decency of striving to understand them first, before attempting to arrive at a resolution.
- Tackle Conflict Head On
Never attempt to delay confronting conflict or worse, ignore or conceal it. Attempts at breezing over it won’t work either. When conflict arises someone needs to resolve it, as it never resolves itself, it only escalates. The longer the conflict is ongoing, the greater the extent of its damage. Resentment, factional infighting, insubordination, backstabbing, these things will only happen more frequently as conflict is allowed to remain unresolved. Not to mention, employee retention rates will drop and enthusiasm and engagement will as well. Conflict must be tackled head on, the sooner the better. No one wants to deal with unpleasant confrontation but, as a leader, it is part of your job. Accept it and embrace it.
- Brainstorm for Solutions
Employees actively involved in the conflict should be given a chance to suggest solutions. They’re the ones being directly affected by it, perhaps they know how it could be resolved. Give each party a chance to make a case for their idea. They will feel acknowledged and heard. As a leader, considering ideas other than your own is a strength. Agree upon a solution that both parties will be satisfied with and map out next steps together.
There will never be a way to avoid all workplace conflict. Opposing opinions, egos, jealousy and competition are all inherently part of human nature. The best you can do for your employees and your company, as a leader, is to accept that fact, and to hone your skills at resolution. Always keep in mind, that conflict is usually a symptom of communication failure and confront it from that angle. The more effectively you manage each conflict that arises, the healthier and stronger your workplace will be.
If you’re interested in learning more about conflict resolution as part of your talent management or leadership development, contact us today to see how our custom strategy could help you get results.