Confronting Conflict in the Workplace
We’ve all seen it go down; Bob from payroll is upset that Maria from sales repeatedly fills out her timesheets incorrectly. He decides to confront her in the break room as a result. Or Linda has a bad day and responds a little too sternly to her boss in a reply-all e-mail. The stage is set for a showdown, and the entire office is now waiting for the situation to come to blows.
That’s what happens when conflicts are allowed to rage past the boiling point; work hours are lost to gossip and hurt feelings. Productivity goes down and office dynamics are thrown out of whack, which is why it is best to confront conflict long before the possibility that fists will be swinging.
Recognize that Conflict is Normal
The first thing to know is that conflict is 100 percent natural, and can even be healthy under the right circumstances. Those circumstances include parties with the emotional maturity to voice disagreement over decisions and policies without making those disagreements personal, and an office environment that allows for such dissent. Under those conditions, conflict can actually lead to beneficial change.
When to Step In
Conflict stops being normal and healthy, however, when it ceases to move in a positive direction. Disagreements will always occur in the workplace, but when those disagreements result in any of the following, it is time to step in:
- Conflict participants are threatening to quit
- Employees or departments are refusing to work with each other
- The conflict has turned personal
- Morale is being affected
Address Conflict Sooner than Later
The longer you allow these types of conflicts to fester, the more damaging the results may be. So as soon as any of the above situations are brought to your attention, it is time to call a meeting between the involved parties and confront the conflict head-on.
Facilitate, Don’t Dictate
A successful conflict resolution meeting involves a member of the HR department acting as a mediator, not a dictator. Start by giving both parties the opportunity to present their side of the situation uninterrupted. Create ground rules before giving them the floor, requesting they use “I” statements instead of accusatory “you” statements, for instance. Then, give the participants ownership over finding a solution together. Summarize the possible options and make sure all parties are on board before moving forward.
In the Future
Avoiding productivity damaging discord in the future involves creating an environment where disagreements are seen as a natural part of business. That means encouraging employees to respectfully voice their opposition to supervisors and peers, and to present alternative options to policies they disagree with.
Beyond that, train your HR and management staff in recognizing conflict before it gets out of hand, and equip them with the tools to address those conflicts when they do pop up. Because they will pop up; conflict is a part of human nature. It’s simply how and when you address that conflict that will make all the difference.