How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable any time people interact and their wishes are different. If properly managed, it can be a source of positive energy in the workplace. If not, it can have devastating effects on a business. Worker productivity declines, the office becomes unpleasant, turnover increases and it can even lead to litigation. As a business owner, it is important to resolve these conflicts before they get out of control and hurt your reputation and profitability.

There are as many reasons for conflict as there are employees, ranging from benign differences of opinion to clashing egos, perceptions of disrespect or unequal treatment, problems with workflow management, poor communications among staff or management, managerial skills that could use improvement, a structure that encourages strife and financial or other incentives that are not aligned with the organization’s goals. Often, different employees in the same conflict have different motives and perspectives.

Business owners and managers should consider a few things:

  • There are ways to manage conflict productively. Learn how to use them. Learn how to work with the different conflict styles and skills you and your individual employees bring to the table.
  • Don’t paper over differences. False harmonies fester. Address disputes before tensions build up and spill over into other aspects of the workplace. Unhappy employees can be toxic to morale, especially when they feel their concerns are falling on deaf ears. They can also signify systemic problems in your business organization. Even though many business owners and managers are reluctant to get involved in workplace disputes, being conflict averse can be costly.
  • You cannot fix what you are not aware of. Take steps to implement a culture of open-ness, so employees will feed you the data you need to evaluate situations.
  • Third parties can really help. A trained mediator can assist in translating among employees who are not communicating and in surfacing the concerns underlying the conflict. Depending on the circumstance, after some initial work, a mediator may also bring in organizational development resources to help fix systemic problems that lead to battling employees or poor team performance. In many cases, managers and business owners find it helpful to add an ombudsman to the mix, someone who is on-site regularly to handle small problems before they turn into big ones.

Conflict is neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but if managed well it does not have to weigh your business down