By Kenny Kline
If you work in an office with other people, conflict is inevitable.
That’s not necessarily a bad a thing. It all comes down to how you handle it.
When work conflicts are handled poorly, they can result in work delays, employee disengagement, absenteeism, and turnover. In fact, up to 65 percent of work performance issues relate back to interpersonal conflict.
On the plus side, work conflicts that are handled constructively can teach your team to be more responsive and adaptable, strengthen the relationships between coworkers, build trust within the team, increase employee engagement and retention, and enhance collaboration and productivity.
The takeaway? It is really (really) important to make effective conflict resolution a workplace priority. Here’s how to transform office conflicts from a performance drain into a productivity boom.
Clearly communicate expectations. One of the biggest sources of workplace conflict is a lack of clarity about team members’ roles and responsibilities. Knowing this can allow you to shape a more productive workforce by:
- Defining who is responsible for what and making sure every team member knows what is expected of them and others
- Ensuring that every team member is clear about the chain of command
- Clearly outlining expectations regarding appropriate and unacceptable behaviors in the workplace
- Clarifying existing policies regarding conflict resolution and ensuring all employees are trained in these procedures
Providing this structure not only diminishes the likelihood of conflict. It also allows your team to do their jobs more effectively.
Address conflicts quickly and directly. Make it a policy to address conflicts as soon as they’re brought to your attention. This achieves multiple purposes: It creates a company culture that upholds constructive communication. And it allows you to course-correct before tensions become full-blown productivity annihilators.
When you address conflict between two or more coworkers, make sure to model healthy communication strategies in the following ways:
- Meet in a neutral, private space
- Embrace active listening. Don’t make assumptions or snap judgements or assign blame off the bat. Instead, allow everyone involved to communicate their perspective. Encourage participants to do the same by using “I” statements instead of “you” statements
- Validate people’s feelings. Workers are not automatons; they’re human beings with feelings. So it’s critical to empathize with their emotions in order to effectively address any conflict. Encourage participants to repeat back and validate each other’s feelings as well
- Once everyone has had their say, articulate your understanding of the situation to make sure you’re all on the same page. Then, invite the participants to brainstorm possible solutions. Work through the options honestly and positively until you reach consensus
- Schedule a time to follow up and ensure everyone is still feeling satisfied with how the conflict was resolved
This strategy is so effective because it fosters respect and builds constructive relationships between coworkers instead of allowing resentments to fester. And when employees share healthy relationships, they’re more capable of collaborating to achieve workplace goals.
Identify (and eliminate) the root cause. Work conflict can arise from a range of factors including limited resources, differences in personality or work style, unclarified responsibilities, poor communication, increased workloads, or other stressful workplace conditions such as occur during layoffs or mergers. This means work conflicts can serve as guideposts that help you identify other productivity drains.
For example, if you can identify that conflict is occurring because employees feel overworked or like they’re competing over the physical resources they need to do their jobs well, you’ll have an opportunity to eliminate the source of the conflict and increase productivity (e.g. by hiring a new staff member or providing more appropriate resources).
You know conflict is inevitable within the workplace—so use that knowledge to your advantage. Get ahead of workplace conflicts by having clear-cut policies in place, modeling effective conflict resolution skills, and identifying the root causes of conflict so your team can move past interpersonal tensions and focus on the job at hand.
Kenny Kline is a serial entrepreneur. His ventures are primarily focused on media and digital marketing. When not in front of his computer, he can be found beekeeping, knitting, and being as Brooklyn as humanly possible.