Resolving Workplace Conflict

Conflict exists in every organization and in every relationship. Sometimes conflicts have a positive outcome. Sometimes they are the reason projects fail, jobs are lost, or customers and clients find new resources. Positive conflict leads to meaningful conversations, new ideas, and increased creativity within an organization. Conflict in the workplace leads to employee dissatisfaction. It results in reduced productivity, poor client services, absenteeism, and work-related stress. Dissatisfaction also leads to an employee opting to leave a position or being fired. It may also lead to litigation.

Conflicts can be due to one of four reasons: personality differences, compliance issues, misunderstandings, or competition. In all cases, a major factor is a breakdown in communication. Collegiality and teamwork are affected. Rumors and gossip start circulating. There is now a decrease in productivity, which will directly impact the company’s bottom-line.

How do you approach conflict? Yes, it is important to address a problem quickly, however, you must first take a deep breath, stop, and think. Don’t just respond or confront the person, because an emotional response can exacerbate the situation rather than solve the problem. In fact, it may even create new problems. You want to clarify the primary issue. You want your response to be clearly articulated, whether written or verbal. If you must write something to vent your frustration, that’s ok, but don’t send it. Save it; read it after you have stepped back, clarified the problem, or identified the issue and how you want it resolved.  Send it only when you know it clearly represents your objective.

Remember conflicts can quickly become adversarial and power struggles. They are often the direct result of a breakdown in communication. A strategy that helps avoid misunderstandings is active listening. By being an active listener and asking for clarification during a conversation, misunderstandings can be prevented. Since words are less than 10% of the message, it is crucial to send the same message both verbally and non-verbally. A conflict may be linked to ‘how a message was delivered rather than the words of the message.’

Words may be misinterpreted due to professional or cultural differences; make sure your words are clear and send your intended message. Does the listener understand your intent, your directions, and/or your opinion? Your colleagues or bosses may come from different cultural, educational, social, or gender backgrounds. Their diversity means they might view the situation from a slightly different perspective.

So how can a conflict be resolved? It is most important to clarify the issue. What caused the conflict in the first place? Once you can clearly articulate that idea, you are ready to have a conversation. Make sure you use a calm voice, a relaxed tone, and eye contact. Don’t yell because the other person will immediately become defensive and stop listening. The issue then becomes about yelling, which is not the root of the initial conflict.  However, it can become the cause of a new conflict.

Resolving any conflict begins with a constructive conversation. It is highly dependent on cooperation and compromise. When both sides feel they must win, the conflict will never be resolved.