No workplace is conflict-free. In fact, workplace conflict is likely more common than most employers probably realize – and it erodes more productivity than any employer wants.
CPP Inc. – the organization that publishes the Myers-Briggs personality assessment and the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument – commissioned a study of workplace conflict and found that employees spend nearly 3 hours a week dealing with it. “Conflict is inevitable because we’re human beings and come from different backgrounds,” Marcia Reynolds, an organizational psychiatrist with Arizona-based Covisioning LLC, told the Society for Human Resource Management. So, how can employees and employers best deal with workplace conflict when it arises?
Best Practices for Those Involved in the Conflict
· Address the conflict early. Delay allows disagreements and irritants to compound until they turn into major explosions. Avoid that outcome by dealing with the situation sooner rather than later.
· Be direct. Approach the person directly before going to management and don’t assume they know why you’re upset, or even that you are upset.
· Always be respectful, even if the other party is not. Try to understand their perspective. If necessary, involve a third-party facilitator.
· Focus on the dispute or challenge, not the person. Look at it this way: if you both want to find a solution, you’re both on the same side trying to resolve a shared problem.
· Be willing to apologize. Each party will have their own share in creating, fostering, or engaging in the conflict. “Most people don’t apologize during workplace conflicts. That hurts the relationship and things never get resolved,” says Jason Treu, author of Social Wealth and host of the Executive Breakthroughs Podcast. Just remember that “I’m sorry you’re upset” is not an apology.
Best Practices for Management and Business Owners
· An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Fostering a collaborative, friendly workplace culture and going through teambuilding exercises can help diminish the frequency and severity of conflict in the workplace.
· Consider providing training in communication and conflict resolution. It will better equip employees to deal with the situation themselves, and these are valuable soft skills that will translate into other areas of work, like dealing with difficult customers.
· Articulate clear workplace policies. Be clear about what is allowable behavior and provide predetermined procedures – and consequences – for dealing with conflict after it arises.
· Treat all employees equitably and consistently. Corrective or punitive action may still be required, as with harassment or discrimination; just apply workplace policies fairly.
· Be careful with penalties. Carrots will help more with conflict resolution than sticks. Again, punitive action may be required, but be aware that punishment can erode morale and inadvertently incentivize more conflict.
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