What springs to your mind when you read the term- workplace conflict? Is it an employee storming out of a room, yelling at his colleague? Well, in reality, it is quite the opposite of any such scenario! Most unhealthy relationships simmer underneath- with people exchanging cold glances and unwilling to cooperate with each other in the same task.
And, as you might already decipher, workplace conflicts always lead to an awful decline in a team’s productivity, communication, morale, and ultimately, overall harmony.
Don’t get me wrong, but conflicts can sometimes be healthy when the employees don’t take it personally. It’s like working with constructive criticism- not everyone is skilled enough to deal with it, but they’re meant for good, nonetheless.
An unhealthy workplace conflict, on the other hand, is up to no good! It degrades your organization and has the potential to ruin everyone’s personal relationships, akin to misunderstandings, miscommunication, and lack of trust.
Sounds scary, I know. But it is something we all have to deal with- at least once in our work life. So if you want to know how to deal with any such prevailing discourses among your peers, I will break down the process of identifying and resolving unhealthy workplace conflicts into five steps. Read ahead to know more.
Steps To Deal With A Workplace Conflict
Before I get into the crux of the situation, let’s take a moment to address the fact that 38% of employees quit their jobs due to an unhealthy work environment.
Sure, arguments and conflicts are not the sole culprits. But they have a significant contribution to it. Unless you are a monk or an employee with unbelievably high ethics, you won’t be able to work at full potential when surrounded by a bunch of people you don’t really like. And that’s natural!
So let’s not beat around the bush anymore. Here are the five steps that you need to follow to ensure that none of your staff feels drained with arguments. Create a better, healthier workplace with these:
We will get into each of these in detail.
1. Awareness: Know the Causes of Conflicts
The first step to resolving any issue- both personal and professional- is to understand why it exists in the first place. Conflicts stem from a lot of behavioral and physical aspects of employees. When ignored, they may take a colossal form. Having conflict management skills is hotter than you can imagine.
Menial differences can cause major discrepancies- and there are various probable reasons behind it. While no magic book or list can sum everything up, be mindful of things such as:
Lack of proper communication manifests in multiple ways. Your employees may not understand the chain of command that follows, or maybe someone failed to clarify their expectations. Workplace conflict also arises from a mismanaged intercultural communication, at times.
Some workplaces foster competitive environments. Linking salaries to employee production can result in a constant need for the employees to be the best. Such a competition, when not eyeballed, can nurture toxicity among all- leading to a hostile work environment. It ultimately promotes individualism and discourages teamwork.
People grow up in varied environments and thus have different personalities. Problems arise when colleagues fail to understand and comprehend these differences. A straightforward team member, for instance, may offend many of their colleagues due to an inappropriate timing of speaking something.
Differences in Ethics:
The differences in values are not the reason behind workplace conflict- the lack of acceptance is. It occurs when co-workers fail to accept each other’s work styles and values- most probably due to the generation gap. They may, unintentionally, insult each other’s experiences, characters, and personality traits- which may intensify over time.
Unclear Job Roles:
A workplace with no specific job roles creates a toxic finger pointing environment. The question of who dropped the ball stays unclear, and co-workers keep blaming each other. Another thing that happens with unclear job roles is that some employees get offended when someone else takes up their responsibilities without any prior notice.
Bullying and Harassment:
It is severe beyond your imagination. A person’s mental health declines and any workplace becomes excessively demoralizing when dealing with bullies or harassers. Nevertheless, it is one of the ugliest reasons behind workplace conflict neglecting which can cause ongoing clinical depression and even PTSD.
Resistance to Change:
It isn’t easy to alter the things we already find easy and familiar to follow. Changes can be stressful and can cause subtle disputes between the employees and the management. And while developing habits and sticking to them is a human tendency we can’t deny, it is not healthy for resistance to turn into hostility.
2. Identification of the Unhealthy Signs
Once you know why a dispute exists, the next step is to identify any potential, unhealthy source that might be bubbling somewhere in the corner. And, as I already said earlier, workplace conflict takes the form of a cold war rather than a heated argument (most of the time).
Getting to know the internal clashes is difficult if you ask the employees directly about it. Try to build a transparent work environment where everyone feels safe to confide in you. Here are a few unhealthy signs that indicate a workplace conflict:
Lack of Trust & Respect:
It is one of the most confirming signals of a workplace conflict. The next time you hear someone saying that they don’t trust Mr. X with a project or that Ms. Y doesn’t trust their work, don’t shrug it off! These are some HUGE red flags indicating an unhealthy conflict brewing among the team.
Disengagement takes a different turn for everyone- people have got different personalities per se. It may manifest as declining productivity, sudden social isolation, or lack of cooperation compared to the person’s usual behavior. While a personal reason might also come into the play, you still can’t keep workplace conflict off the table.
A decline in a person’s morale may result from various issues stemming from personal and professional life. But if an employee seems to be feeling continual down during their working hours, chances are, there is something that bugs them- most probably a workplace conflict.
If you keep having the same discussion with your team, and it leads to nowhere, chances are, there is something serious brimming in the background. Having a meeting is not going to resolve it- because they are not willing to listen- probably due to frustration with their colleagues.
Research says that an employee stays the most productive when working in an environment they trust and find psychologically confiding. A rapid decline in employee productivity directly indicates an absence of psychological safety and the will to perform as a team- most probably rooting from a grudge.
Workplace resentment shows up as employees bringing up issues from weeks or months ago. They may selectively despise taking tasks from some team members because of a denied promotion they loathe. Or they may feel like their work goes unrecognized, so they would avoid talking about specific matters. Look for any such hints to rectify them for good.
Pay attention to how your staff talks about their colleagues, their job role, and their everyday work. A little bit of complaint does no harm, but an increasing frequency of any such behavior is a sign of simmering conflict. Try to take staff surveys and observe the negative responses closely.
3. Clarification of the Differences
Getting signs and mixed signals is not enough when it comes to finding solutions. Take one step ahead and communicate directly with your staff to know what caused a dispute and if there was a dispute at all. Or you may confuse a healthy competition with a raw debate.
Maintaining top-notch communication is a prerequisite to establishing a trusted work environment. And it is always advisable to have things clarified from the horse’s mouth instead of making a wild guess.
Here’s how to do so:
Step 1: Ask them Directly!
When in doubt, talk it out. Don’t be abrupt but also don’t try to sneak this topic into your conversation. Be a friend and talk to them thoroughly about it, addressing every possible concern. Always remember, be a good listener!
Step 2: Listen to Both Sides
Because how could you understand a situation by listening to only one side of the story? Talk to both the individuals separately about the said issue/conflict to let them open up about it confidently.
Step 3: Clarify Face to Face
Let them have their say in front of each other. This way, they won’t be able to add anything from their part. And the reasons behind the conflict will become clear.
Pro Tip: Hold a meeting with HR, if necessary
Some disputes may be complicated and not limited to personal issues. It is advisable to talk in front of the management or HR, in such cases, in order to avoid any further blame games and unnecessary consequences.
4. Rectification: Resolve Issues Rationally
While cognitive biases are no man’s fault, they do mess with our decision-making and problem-solving skills. And while it takes a lot to train the mind to keep the biases aside, you HAVE TO keep an open mind when resolving a conflict.
Taking a practical approach is a must for dealing with differences. Or else you’ll end up with unfair judgments. And there’s nothing worse than the feeling of a false accusation!
Track & Verify the Said Activities
The first and foremost step to resolving a conflict is to find credibility with the complaints. Of course, you can’t record everything. But it is wise to check and verify everything possible from your end before taking any actions. Or you may set up a terrible example.
Avoid Relying on Past
Most of the biases root from our past experiences with a person. Learn to let go of them. People grow and change every day, and it is highly unethical to assume a situation because of someone’s previously committed mistakes.
Find a Mid-way Solution
There isn’t always one right and one wrong in an argument- a difference in opinion is the culprit most of the time. Try to find a way that works for both. But you are free to take any actions immediately if one of them is actually wrong.
Explain Your Point Thoroughly
Learn to explain both sides in detail and avoid scolding anyone. Explain your solution thoroughly, even if you take strict action. You would never want to boss around the people who are already on bad terms with each other- it’s like adding fuel to the fire.
Specify Goals & Responsibilities
Once your colleagues understand why and how they must behave on the premises, you also have to make sure they comprehend their roles as individuals. A sense of responsibility brings vulnerability, and people start thinking more rationally rather than emotionally.
Go by a Rule Book
Company policies play a pivotal role in resolving disagreements. Apart from that, have your own set of rules to deploy in case of disputes and conflicts. They always come in handy, and the outcomes are never adverse.
Take Action Wherever Necessary
You cannot avoid the high road to maintain your statistics of employee retention. Be righteous and take strict actions in case of a severe issue. Never let the culprits roam free.
5. Alteration & Establishment of New Regulations
Prevention is better than cure, just saying. When you know the causes and roots of common differences among your team members, your next step should be to find a permanent solution for them. This way, you avoid any potential differences before-hand and also resolve any issues that arise later.
Changes are healthy. An adaptive workplace is an evolving one. And it is always best to rectify what doesn’t work for your teams instead of asking everyone to get used to it eventually.
Write things up, and create a workplace manifesto. Draft a work from home policy if your staff telecommutes. However, having such a draft is not enough if you can’t alter them every once in a while, so make sure you do that as well. And never make exceptions when following these rules. Or else your colleagues will feel that you are biased!
Working with a team of employees having grudges against each other is way worse than organizing a group activity with angry teens. A workplace conflict is more than just two people arguing over the current protocol of managing work- it may lead to employees disobeying their TLs and managers, akin to the piled-up frustration.
Are you sure you understand the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy workplace conflict? If you do, make sure you follow the steps mentioned in this blog to ensure a happy, healthy workplace.
What else do you think an employer needs to do to keep conflicts at bay? Let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!
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