We hear the word conflict, and many of us start looking for the nearest exit. It’s uncomfortable, scary, and marred with uncertainty at the possible outcomes, and we don’t always feel confident in our ability to navigate such interactions. It becomes trickier to work around in the workplace. But wherever people are, conflict is inevitable. Below is our guide on handling conflict in the workplace.

What is conflict?

Conflict is more than a difference of opinion. It is best described as a serious, protracted disagreement or argument over interests, opinions, and principles.

In the workplace, these disputes arise when there are different views, decisions, or actions taken about a job-related task. This type of squabble can also occur because of a feeling of poor management, organisational restructuring, retrenchments, competition, personality clashes, or when individuals simply don’t get along. It’s also helpful to understand that there are different types of conflict.

  • Task conflict: this is a process-oriented conflict that occurs when issues come to the fore from tasks and responsibilities allocated at work. Some examples of this are the outcomes of a decision, dissatisfaction with the quality of a deliverable, and budget allocations.
  • Relationship conflict: this can be difficult to fix because there isn’t a direct event that took place but it’s a result of personality clashes or differences in how leaders manage, communicate, cooperate, or resolve conflict.
  • Value conflict: as the name suggests this type of conflict is rooted in misaligned personal values on how things are done, differences in ethics, and political, social, and religious beliefs between colleagues.

This understanding can help guide approaches used in mediating the conflict and finding resolutions.

Strategies on how to resolve conflict

Addressing conflict is not always easy. This is true if you want to solve it personally, or are a supervisor tasked with handling the situation.

  1. Face the issue: Regardless of how awkward and sensitive it is, you must deal with conflict directly and decisively and not beat around the bush as that doesn’t resolve anything. Additionally, you need to ensure that you are dealing with the main issue at hand and not personal vendettas or older problems. If these do exist, set a time to deal with them separately.
  2. Deal with it quickly. You also need to face and deal with it as soon as possible. This prevents the issue from festering and growing bigger and thus, more difficult to work through.
  3. Identify the source of the conflict. You need to establish what type of conflict you’re dealing with. Is it task, value, or relationship based? This way, you will use the right tactics to deal with the problem.
  4. Communication is key. In a conflict, each party believes they are right and only their voice must be heard. Emphasize the importance of communicating clearly, accurately, respectfully, and maturely throughout the conflict resolution process. Failure to do this could lead to immature behaviours, and aggressive language, and ultimately primes you as the mediator and mediation, ineffective.
  5. A key part of communication that often gets ignored is listening. Many times, “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to the reply,” Stephen Covey. This is especially important as many conflicts arise from miscommunication and misunderstandings. What are the areas of agreement and disagreement? Everyone must prioritise listening over talking and grant the other individual the same courtesy.
  6. Find a common goal. Brainstorm workable solutions and leave out the options that the conflicting parties don’t find agreeable. The goal is to find common ground, a give and take from both sides that doesn’t make one feel like they have ‘won’ and the other has lost. It’s both of you against the problem, not each other.
  7. Evaluate. Take time after the goal has been established to create an action plan of what to do next, how well it’s being acted on, and if what was decided on is not working, regroup, and find a better way to deal with the issue.

Additionally, make sure the conflict resolution attempts take place at a convenient time and be clear about the intent and desire to find a solution. Feeling defensive going into a session to sort out the differences will unlikely achieve the result you want because emotions play a big role in the conflict. Being able to manage the emotions will go a long way.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help in resolving a conflict.
  • Honesty is key – about your fault if any, and the event or cause of conflict.

These strategies, when implemented correctly, will create a culture of resolution in the workplace. Employees will be confident in management and the organisation’s ability to work through problems head-on and therefore ensure that a healthy, safe, and productive environment is created and nurtured.

If you feel that ongoing conflicts are taking a toll on your mental health and workplace well-being, take time to work on yourself. Our mental health check-up is a quick, free, and simple way to assess your status and get the resources you need to get better.

Conflict is unavoidable. The good news is it is manageable. As a business, make it a part of your key values that employees must get behind. As an individual, do your best to work well with everyone. And where conflict does arise, endeavour to speedily find a solution to go back to a healthy workplace for all.

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