No matter the industry or position, workplace conflicts are inevitable. Fortunately, before letting these problems spiral out of control, you can implement various workplace conflict resolution strategies.
Although these strategies require diligence and understanding to work correctly, they can act as suitable guidelines for managers, supervisors, and HR reps. So, let’s look at a few workplace conflict resolution strategies that may work for your business.
What are the Dangers of a Lack of Conflict Resolution?
When conflicts are allowed to continue and escalate in the workplace, they can lead to many secondary problems, such as:
- Inability to Focus on Work – Conflicts don’t just affect those involved in the situation. Other employees may find it hard to concentrate or be productive because of ongoing clashes between individuals. The stress of the situation may also be overwhelming for some workers, making it almost impossible to focus.
- Escalation – If conflicts aren’t resolved quickly, they tend to escalate. These escalations may mean that clashes become more aggressive or violent, or an escalation could mean that more people get involved. When left unchecked, these escalations can threaten to overwhelm the entire workplace, crippling your operations and causing massive financial problems.
- Low Worker Morale – When employees see that conflicts don’t get resolved immediately and are allowed to worsen, they’re far less likely to stay motivated in their jobs. Low morale can kill a business because no one is motivated to complete tasks or go above and beyond what’s expected of them. Over time, this morale could turn into mass resignations, leading to worker shortages and numerous secondary problems.
- Lack of Respect – Managers and leaders need to facilitate a swift and equitable resolution as soon as conflicts arise. Otherwise, they risk losing their authority and respect. When that happens, employees won’t follow orders, and the workplace can devolve into a chaotic, disorganized mess.
8 Workplace Conflict Resolution Strategies That Work
Now that we can see the dangers of letting conflicts escalate or spiral out of control, let’s look at some different ways that managers can resolve these conflicts whenever they occur. Also, each situation is unique, so some of these strategies may be more effective than others. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to conflict management.
1) Get to the Root of the Problem
In many cases, the inciting incident that creates a conflict is rarely the catalyst for problems. Usually, the actual issue is buried underneath, so it’s up to managers and mediators to uncover those layers to discover the root of the problem. Without digging deeper, it’s virtually impossible to know how to fix the issue over the long term.
Sometimes, the root is easy to spot. In other cases, it may take some time and trust-building to figure out what’s really going on inside. Also, the core element may only be present in one party, with the second party simply reacting to actions or attitudes expressed by the first individual.
This strategy works well because it allows mediators to focus their time and energy on the source of the conflict so it can be resolved adequately for everyone involved.
2) Talk Through the Problem
Sometimes, conflict may arise without a specific quantifiable issue to blame. Perhaps the individuals involved are stressed about other things, or maybe they just don’t get along for some unspecified reason. In this situation, the best strategy is to talk with both parties individually and then together to see if they’re even on the same page.
Conflicts often arise because of biases and internal circumstances, so talking through the problem can help bring these elements to light and may even reveal them to the individual. There’s a tendency to be blind to one’s own actions, so discussing them with an objective third party can actually be quite insightful.
3) Start With Commonalities
In extreme conflicts where individuals are at odds with each other, it can seem almost impossible to get both parties to agree with the other. In this situation, the best strategy is to search for common ground and use it as a foundation for creating a dialog and establishing lines of communication. From there, it’ll be easier to discuss the actual issue in a more objective and reasonable manner.
Ideally, these commonalities will exist within the workplace or be related to each individual’s role within the company. However, if necessary, you can use personal anecdotes to get the ball rolling.
4) Find Objective Solutions
Typically, workplace conflicts rarely have a “right” and a “wrong” side. Even if one person is clearly in the wrong, it’s hard to penalize them for the situation unless he or she broke rules or regulations in the process.
So, when coming up with short and long-term solutions, it’s important to stay as impartial as possible. Ideally, both parties can agree on the first decision, but if not, you have to keep working on the problem until an agreement is reached.
Also, keep in mind that the best solution may not be ideal for either individual. It’s not about one side “winning” and the other “losing.” Instead, it’s about creating a viable and positive workplace where everyone can achieve their objectives without being sidelined by others.
5) Focus on Conflict Mitigation, Not Avoidance
Did you know that the phrase “only you can prevent forest fires” actually helped increase the frequency and intensity of forest fires? According to data, by preventing all fires, too much underbrush would build up, meaning that when a fire did break out, it would spread out of control much faster than before. So, by allowing controlled burns, forest managers can keep the trees healthy while burning out the dead materials that could cause a massive blaze.
Conflict management is somewhat similar in that the goal shouldn’t be to avoid all conflicts. Instead, it’s better to have a system in place to identify and minimize conflicts as they occur. It’s virtually impossible to guarantee that everyone gets along at all times. So, rather than quash all signs of conflict immediately, you should work on resolution tactics and figuring out how to mitigate the problem. This way, a little healthy conflict is okay while not being allowed to get out of control.
6) Use Positive Reinforcement
When conflict arises, it’s easy to let the situation become negative and adversarial. When both sides are fighting or slinging insults, it’s hard to maintain a positive attitude. However, as a mediator, it’s imperative to utilize positive reinforcement as much as possible when figuring out a suitable solution.
Additionally, it can help when both sides are encouraged to look at each other favorably. For example, they could each say what they admire about the other person and what assets they bring to the table. If one member of the conflict is unwilling or unable to say anything positive, that could be more insightful than you might realize.
Positive reinforcement also applies to the outcome of the conflict. If you’re going to make some changes to resolve the issue, you can reiterate that to both parties, so they’re more satisfied with the solution. Then, because each person is looking forward to the resolution, it’s much easier to get them to agree to a compromise.
7) Look for Benefits and Advantages
Most leaders will tell you that conflict is often a danger for a business and to prevent conflicts as much as possible. However, even though the actual conflict can be negative and harmful, it could lead to some positive advantages for the company as a whole.
For example, if a conflict arises, it may force your team to develop better communication skills to avoid such misunderstandings in the future. Alternatively, a conflict may result in improved practices and fewer redundancies. Overall, if you only see the conflict as a negative, that’s all it will be. However, if you look at the solution as a positive change, the entire company (and all its workers) can benefit.
Another way that conflicts can lead to positive outcomes is if both parties can come together and become more collaborative in the future. Sometimes, a conflict is all it takes to break down barriers and get individuals to talk and be more open with each other. From there, they can elevate their work by supporting each other, not tearing each other down.
8) Ask for Solutions
Sometimes, the best way to gather insight into a conflict and its source is to ask each party what they would do if they were in charge. By framing the resolution from their perspective, you may be able to come up with a compromise that works for both individuals. All too often, mediators tend to come into conflict with pre-determined solutions, but those don’t always work for each situation. By asking the participants, it’s easier to tailor a resolution strategy to meet everyone’s needs.
Alternatively, if one individual is unwilling to accept a compromise, that can tell you a lot about how they work and whether they’ll be an asset to the team.
Get Better Conflict Resolution Strategies With Pollack Peacebuilding Systems
If you’re interested in getting better at workplace conflict resolution strategies, contact us for a free consultation and see how our services can help your business.