10 Steps To Resolve Conflict At Work

“It’s always easy to blame others. You can spend your entire life blaming the world, but your success and failures are entirely your own responsibility.” 

— Paulo Coelho

Creating a work environment that promotes growth and success is a goal that every flourishing business should meet.

Financial prosperity for any business relies on teamwork from the CEO down to the office administration intern.

In a perfect world, every employee stays on the same page, running like a well-oiled machine. But, in reality, it’s safe to assume that not a single business runs smoothly without conflict between employees or management.

Conflict is a natural cause when a collective group of minds get together to achieve a singular goal. The friction of differing ideas isn’t necessarily a problem.

The main issue with interpersonal work conflict is when the team isn’t adequately trained or educated in dealing with situations.

By taking the necessary steps to assess an issue and dissecting it in a calm and relaxed manner, we assure tensions decrease while productivity increases. Not only does productivity increase, but so does overall morale.

Any management team worth their weight will agree that happy employees are good employees.

There’s no single way to deal with conflict. It’s a process involving several steps. Each of which that carry their benefits and resolve different versions of the same root issues.

We will be discussing the road map to conflict resolution in the work space. A linear version doesn’t exist, but everyone benefits by understanding the different techniques. 

Working in harmony with coworkers is an ecosystem of checks and balances.

 

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Don’t Avoid Conflict: Why You Should Tackle It Head On

The word “conflict” gets a wrap as a negative term. Something to stray away from, or to be viewed as a last resort option.

But conflict addresses issues and finds resolutions for problems. It can trigger change because it might lead to an open discussion that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

The issue with conflict arises when those involved aren’t equipped to deal with the problems at hand. Conflict often includes a “You vs. Me” attitude, creating an environment that requires a winner and loser.

There needs not to be a winner or loser, but coming to a mutual agreement that strengthens the business.

Here are 10 lessons you can apply today. 

1. Address all issues immediately

No matter how big or small, emotions or ideas left unchecked will manifest into a beast.

How often do we allow ourselves to let the slightest issue irk us, creating a much larger problem that spirals out of control?

Organise a meeting with HR to deal with the conflict and address issues right away. A formal meeting with a 3rd party will create a better environment as there’s someone to mediate and help the conversation along.

This should make everyone comfortable with voicing their opinion without fear of retaliation.

Whether for better or worse, we are animals of emotional complexity. And these emotions will often drive our decision making, including at home or in the office space.

The problem with this is emotions are often irrational and offer no value to solving a problem. This makes an impartial third party invaluable for difficult conversations. 

2. Stop hearing and start listening

You may be asking yourself what the difference is. Without giving it much thought, they seem to be the same thing. But, let’s take a look at the Webster definitions of each term to get a better understanding of the differences.

Hearing is “the process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.”

Listening means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention and to give consideration.”

When you start listening instead of hearing, you begin to obtain the crucial details and problems the speaker is trying to convey. It means investing all your energy and focus.

That means not only listening to the words but watching body language and being attentive to the emotional signals.

Refrain from formulating a response until you’ve heard everything they have to say.

Psychologist Dr. Kevin Gilliand gives some tips on becoming a better listener. He says to:

  • Ask open-ended questions: Stray away from questions that end the engagement abruptly. You want to find out more details about the issue. Asking for clarification of details and elaboration creates a more fluid conversation.

     

  • Be curious: Create an interest in the speaker’s topic. It engages both the listener and speaker into the conversation.

     

  • Focus on the subject: It’s easy to veer off course and derail the conversation. “When you’re trying to have the kind of conversation where listening is key, don’t go down rabbit trails,” says Dr Gilliand. 
3. Don’t fill in the blanks

Sometimes no matter how hard we try to stay focused, there’s always the chance for your mind to wander. If you do miss a piece of the story, before the other person carries on, politely ask them to repeat the last 15 seconds.

Doing so stops you from filling in the blanks with imaginary events and potentially missing the entire plot. The other person will appreciate that your making sure you’re getting their version of the facts and that you’re listening attentively, which will only help diffuse any tension. 

We have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason, but now that we’ve got the listening portion down, it’s time to use our mouths. 

4. Articulate and define the problem 

Before beginning to strategize how to fix a problem, the problem needs to be understood. We often add unnecessary layers to an issue and muck up what the real issue is.

Or, we tend to look at what the solution needs to be without identifying the cause. It leads to answering the wrong questions and wasting time and energy on non-factors.

Dwayne Spradlin is the founder of InnoCentive; a company specialized in consulting for large firms. He explains that by peeling through the issues of companies, they often weren’t addressing the real underlying problems.

When a conflict does arise:

  • Sit down with everyone that may have a hand in the problem and solution.
  • State the problem and then list the issues – without pointing fingers or playing the blame game.
  • Sort through what are the underlying scenarios that need adjusting.

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5. Don’t blame, there are no winners and losers

Unfortunately, egotism gets in the way of clear communication. A business relies on the cooperation of all its employees. Just like a handmade Swiss watch, if a single gear falls out of place, the clock ceases to work.

The same with the office and when an employee starts to affect the work of others, it can become a bitter duel.

When it comes time to address an issue, enter with an open mind and a focus on improving the situation. Don’t focus on “winning the argument.”

Clearing the air and improving workflow involves letting go of being right or wrong. It also means working towards a common goal. 

When we put ego and emotions to the side, everyone wins, including the company.

 6. Respect others opinion

When a lack of respect is present for another’s opinion, not only will you delegitimize their value to the answer, but they may also become frustrated.

Frustration will only escalate the situation. You’re allowed to disagree with someone, but respectfully. That’s the distinction.

When a coworker becomes frustrated, ask questions to find the source of their frustration (“listening”).

Keep digging through their emotions. As they communicate, echo their sentiments and assure them they’re valid for feeling this way. Not only will this engage you with the views of the other, but it also shows you’re intent on working with them.

7. Agree you could have done better 

You might not have been in the wrong, but it is good practice to end by stating some key points you can build on for next time.

It’s essential to understand that through another’s eyes, you may have also been at fault. We tend to overlook our lack of contribution or engagement.

When we start to look at ourselves and how we could have done better and not only blame others, conflicts and problems will begin to solve themselves.

Admitting that we’re at complete or partial fault for the problem, or how we could have done better is conflict resolution 101.

8. Don’t put words in other people’s mouths

Whether it’s malicious or not, people like to emphasize what others have said. Not only is human memory fragile at best, when fueled by emotion. It’s easy to sling feces at another while incorrectly paraphrasing them.

When resolving a conflict, don’t state a problem by identifying another individual. Instead, phrase the issue in a way that states how you felt, and not what they said.

Pushing blame on another furthers the problem and raises the heat in the kitchen.

Another great way of dealing with an issue is to use the 50-50 rule. Take 50 percent of the responsibility in a conflict, whether you initially deemed it your fault or not.

It alleviates the pressure of being “right,” and also allows others to voice their opinion. All without the prejudice of knowing what they are saying is invalid.

9. Keep the conflict between as few people as necessary

As previously mentioned, it’s important to address any issue. No matter how big or small, if something needs taken care of then set the wheels in motion to get it fixed.

It doesn’t mean to call a company-wide meeting if someone keeps forgetting to restock the paper at the printing and scanning station.

By overemphasizing the issue, we can create further problems. Not only will the person who is at fault feel embarrassed, but they might also try to vindicate their embarrassment by making a non-issue larger than life.

When it comes to problem-solving, remove all unnecessary clutter and get straight to the point. In the case of the missing printer paper, find whose responsibility it is and ask them kindly to keep an eye on it.

More than likely, they will appreciate you coming forth and not bringing the issue to someone else.

10.  Restate the positives and how to move forward

A heated argument was defused rather well by everyone involved. Taking steps to keep calm and locate the conflict, people are on the same page and happy as ever.

Job well-done team! But, there’s one more step to drive home the communication. Restate what’s been covered from the conflict, and how it’s applied to move forward.

Human focus, like memory, isn’t as good as we always think. It’s estimated that we can keep focused and stay on track for about 10-20 minutes.

Most meetings in the workplace won’t last less than 30 minutes, which means that at random segments, a handful of people were dozing off. This is why a recap of the conflict and the steps going forward is essential.

Repeat the benefits of the meeting, and how coming together was positive.

It leads to further beneficial discussions and keeps everyone engaged in the goals and future of the company.

Conflict is Growth, Not a Problem

Turning conflict into a positive requires a paradigm shift in thought. It starts from the head of the company and needs to be echoed through the company.

Practicing positive conflict resolution is critical. Making it a statement in the company improves the work environment. It also teaches accountability, humility, respect and the value of being vocal.

A team is only as good as its weakest link, and when individuals work together, great goals are achievable.

Stay tuned to the blog for more workplace strategies for a better environment. 

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Written By Mark Galvao

Full-time writer, part-time jack of all trades, Mark is a member of the Advesa content team. You’ll seldom find him without a basketball in his hands. But, if he isn’t shooting hoops, he’s probably exploring philosophy, metaphysics, nature, or a little known corner of this planet we call home.