While workplace gossip can be mildly entertaining. After all, everyone wants to ‘spill the tea’, on the latest gossip to make the monotonous rhythm of work a bit more entertaining. However, having outright conflict at work will cause more stress than fun and can ultimately be disastrous. Here are a few conflict resolution strategies for workplace drama reduction.

Recognize the Problem Early

Whether you are a team leader or a team member, you have the option to be aware of potential conflicts. For instance, if you notice that tempers are running high or that everyone is talking about the people who just cannot get along, these can be signs of a potential problem. You can take action by becoming involved directly or you can alert someone within your company.

Certain situations are more likely to produce conflict. These include conflicts in leadership style, team projects where one party is underperforming or delivering late, personality clashes, and discrimination. Each cause of conflict, when handled with care, will become a tool for conflict resolution. For instance, if you have a leadership style that conflicts with the team, make sure that you are having frequent meetings to discuss milestones and concerns. Alternatively, if you suspect discrimination, make sure that you get human resources involved. In cases of suspected discrimination, an open dialogue between the company and the victim of discrimination is key; it is likewise important to listen to the grievances of all involved.

Create a Conflict-Averse Environment

If you are a leader, you can institute protocols to help decrease conflict. If you are a team member, you can approach leadership with suggestions. Good conflict-aversion practices include clear communication, frequent meetings or checkpoints, and encouragement for honesty. Communication is particularly important at work within any team. Make sure that you set clear expectations and deadlines or ask for clarification as necessary. Also, make sure that there are progress meetings scheduled that will help the team stay on track and allow for a chance to express concerns.

Become Certified in Conflict Resolution

Having the skills to resolve conflicts before they become a problem can be very beneficial. Having the skills to resolve a conflict will benefit you in every aspect of life including your family and personal life. Within your work life, having conflict resolution skills will make you a valuable member of any team. Earning a certification can make you more valuable at your current job and will also help your resume stand out for future positions.

Know When to Delegate

Whether you are directly involved in a conflict or simply aware of a conflict that is developing, you do have the option to delegate conflict resolution duties. This might mean reaching out to human resources or a team leader to take charge. Alternatively, you may find yourself reaching out to a qualified third party to help bring about conflict resolution. Whatever the case, you should know when to step down and allow another to take the lead.

When Workplace Gossip Is Not Just Harmless Fun

Successful managers have a unique relationship with gossip. They know that, in the right context, the exchange of juicy stories can build rapport with colleagues and prospective clients. Your goal is to encourage the flow of conversation. Meanwhile, you don’t want to spill confidential information, making people think that you are untrustworthy or indiscreet.

You should assume that your employees are adults who are aware of the effects of gossip. The last thing anyone wants is a micromanaging boss who unilaterally declares war on “mean girls.” If you do that, your employees will just think that you are bitter about the fact that your classmates gossiped about you in the eighth grade. Unless it is causing bigger problems on your team, employees have the right to snark amongst themselves. When does workplace gossip become a problem, though?

What Happens If You Fail to Implement Conflict Resolution Strategies?

Choosing a common enemy can help two or more employees build team spirit. When one employee is especially difficult to work with, the others can discuss their annoyance with him or her among themselves. It might even help them work around the obstacles placed by this disagreeable colleague.

If some team members are saying disrespectful things about a certain team member in that team member’s presence, you have bigger problems. Workplace harassment is against the law. If one employee complains to human resources, others could get in trouble. You could even be in trouble for failing to manage conflict on your team.

Antagonistic remarks about an employee count as employment discrimination when they relate to a protected characteristic of the employee. Protected characteristics are personal characteristics such as race, religion, sex, age, national origin, and disability. California law even considers caste a protected characteristic. If you do not implement conflict resolution strategies to stop workplace harassment, you could be dealing with an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Delegation, Automation, and Elimination Are Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies

Conflict often arises when employees disagree or misunderstand who is responsible for which tasks. In cases like this, management skills are the best conflict resolution strategies. You probably learned about delegation, automation, and elimination of tasks as productivity strategies, but they are equally effective at preventing conflict.

When you delegate tasks, employees know which tasks they are responsible for doing. There is also no room for ambiguities or a blame game if certain tasks are late. You can easily tell the source of delays. An even more effective conflict management strategy, however, is that some tasks are no one’s responsibility. If automation software can do the tasks, then employees cannot get stressed out about them or blame each other for not doing them. Even better, you as a manager can decide which tasks do not need to be done at all. By eliminating tasks, you can save your employees’ time. Since you also will not need to pay for software to do these tasks, you are also helping your organization save money.

Be the Change You Want to See in Your Workplace

Bossing people around is not the most effective way to be a leader. It is better if you model the behavior you want to see from your employees. For example, if miscommunication is a problem, send your whole team daily updates on your work progress, and ask them to do the same. If gossip is a problem on your team, then make sure you never repeat gossip. Likewise, if bad tempers are a problem, then make sure you wait at least two hours before responding to emails that push your buttons. Know which conversations should be public and which should be private, and treat them accordingly. The best managers hold themselves to an even higher standard of behavior than that to which they hold their employees.

Ambiguity Is a Breeding Ground for Conflict

Managers can prevent a lot of workplace drama by communicating their expectations clearly. Set your workplace policies as soon as you take on your management role. Do not change your policies frequently or arbitrarily. Train new employees thoroughly on workplace protocol. Ideally, you should communicate instructions both orally and in writing.

You should be just as thorough when giving instructions on short-term assignments as you are about the permanent policies of your organization. If you introduce a project during a meeting, you should also make the slides available to employees. Mistakes and conflicts will be less common if the employees can continue to review the slides after the meeting.

Know When and How to Discuss Conflict

When a team member comes to you to discuss a conflict with another coworker, your response can make the situation better or worse. Unless the coworker’s behavior was very dangerous or threatening (to the point where it would persuade a judge to issue a restraining order), encourage the team member who complained to talk directly with the coworker. If the coworker tried this and it didn’t work, you should speak privately with the coworker. Do not take an accusing tone, and choose carefully which information from your conversation with the complaining team member to reveal. Just try to find out the coworker’s side of the story.

Team-wide meetings are only a solution to conflict when a certain type of conflict is recurring and includes multiple parties. You do not solve anything by calling a meeting where everyone gangs up on one employee. Group meetings about conflict in the workplace should be a venue for you to acknowledge that the conflict is going on. If you have thought of a way to solve the conflict, then you should present the instructions at the meeting. Make it feel like it is a meeting about a new policy or set of instructions, not about conflict. If you have not thought of a solution, then the meeting is a place to ask for suggestions. Make it clear that employees do not have to tell you their suggestions in front of everyone. Instead, you should set the stage for one-on-one conversations about the conflict.

Get in touch with WorkPeace today to learn about our conflict resolution services and conflict resolution certification.