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A Guide to Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

Tuesday July 12th, 2016

Estimated time to read: 3 minutes

Workplace conflict, although not uncommon can certainly raise tensions at the office, even if there are only a couple of people involved. Conflict can take on many forms and levels – from “Stop eating the snacks I leave in the fridge” to “Joe never does his part on team projects.” Ultimately, workplace conflict, if not resolved, can impact the atmosphere and well being of everyone in your workplace and take much longer to restore a healthy environment once tension reaches the point where both parties lash out at each other. Here are some tips to help you and your employees resolve workplace conflict.

Pinpoint the source of the conflict.
When tensions build in the workplace, even when the cause of the tension may seem apparent, the cause of tension needs to be clearly stated, so that a true solution can be reached. This is best determined by getting any parties involved in the conflict to sit down individually with you to discuss their side of the situation, then having all parties involved sit down together with you and preferably, another trusted colleague to discuss how the conflict began. You may be surprised to find that many conflicts simply come from a simple miscommunication or unclear boundaries or policies.

Let’s take Bob and Mary, for example. One day, Mary leaves her work station furious, exclaiming that Bob is impossible to work with. You now know that there is a conflict, but you now have to determine the source.

During conversations that may take place in an attempt to resolve conflict, it is important to stress to all the parties involved that no one is there to debate, there simply needs to be a discussion on how to find a solution to the conflict at hand. Taking this approach will help your employees let their guards down. You do not want anyone to be on the defensive. A great way to encourage a dialogue is to ask questions after meeting with employees individually, then asking similar or the same questions when both parties are assembled. By engaging in eye contact with you as a neutral third party and having both parties address you first, the other parties will not feel as threatened. And after you are done asking questions, you can leave the discussion more open for commentary from both sides.

This will provide a chance to ease tensions, as well as help all parties involved think through their choice of words, as well as prevent, “he said; she said’ debates.

Create a list of possible solutions for this particular situation, and work to find a compromise, when possible.
After the situation itself has been examined, explain to those engaging in the discussion that you are here to discover solutions together. For example, let’s say that two employees with very dynamic personalities share the same workstation.Often times, when people spend so much time in close quarters, conflict is bound to occur.

Because office supplies are limited, Bob and Mary have to share a stapler.

When Bob uses the stapler, Mary gets frustrated because she can’t find this piece of equipment, and thinks that Bob is taking her supplies on purpose. Well, in our individual discussions with Bob and Mary, we learn that Mary is under the impression that each individual, not each work station, is given their own stapler, and wasn’t aware that she and Bob had to share.

Bob was also under this impression. When it is time to sit down and dialogue, Bob and Mary both learn that this was a simple misunderstanding.

Possible solutions are for them to share the stapler, as well as a few other workspace supplies or bring their own supplies to work, but since their company has multiple shifts, they would need to take their supplies with them or lock them up at the end of the workday, which can become cumbersome.

Bob and Mary opt to share the supplies, however, they reach an agreement on where to put these supplies and clearly label these spaces as a reminder.

Now that a compromise has been reached, Bob and Mary have a peaceful work relationship, more respect for each other, and an understanding of how to communicate more clearly in the future.

So you see, many workplace conflicts can be resolved with the right plan of communication, after all, common sources of workplace conflict are miscommunication and unclear boundaries.

  • First, find the genuine source of the conflict.
  • Then, in your discussions with your employees, encourage dialogue instead of debate.
  • Lastly, work through possible solutions and/or strategies together as a group. This could prevent many other workplace frustrations and further conflict from arising.

When you teach these positive ways to resolve conflict, you and your employees will feel less stressed, and you will create and maintain an environment in which lines of communication stay open. Try practicing these conflict resolution tips, and you will feel more prepared to successfully address workplace conflict when it arises.