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Workplace Conflict and How to Resolve it

Dealing with workplace conflict can be challenging. Whatever your leadership style, you should have a clear idea of how you resolve conflict in your organisation. It impacts productivity, culture and even employee turnover, so let's take a look at how to resolve and minimise it.

Most people have faced workplace conflict at least once in their lives. Whether professionally or personally, it’s not something anybody wants to experience. But sometimes, it’s inevitable. And that’s because no two people think or act the same.  

Despite its perceived inevitability, it’s important that organizations have preparations in place to prevent or deal with workplace conflict when it arises. The wide scope of problems that can emerge at any given time can leave managers in an uncomfortable situation. 

“How can we resolve it?!” 

You can’t prepare for the unknown. But you can adopt a specific approach. This approach needs to ensure that if workplace conflict does arise, you’re well equipped to deal with it.  

Let’s first define workplace conflict and the different ways it can affect organizations.  

What is Workplace Conflict?

Workplace conflict is a result of sharp disagreement or opposition of interests and ideas. It can often cause a decrease in productivity and cause difficulty in retaining employees. A Workplace Conflict Report from CPP Global stated that 85% of employees experience some kind of conflict. With 29% of employees constantly experiencing conflict. This equates to costing the U.S $389 billion in paid hours per year.  

Organizations can ill-afford to lose thousands of dollars over inefficient processes leading to workplace conflict. They need a strategy. A strategy that will help to measure and control it. To begin, they should fully educate themselves on the different types of workplace conflict and the ways they can surface.  

We’ve listed a few: 

  • Leadership conflicts – It’s not just employees you know. Managers and their leadership styles can often be at the center of controversy.  
  • Creative conflicts – Different employee ideas can often cause contrasting opinions leading to workplace conflict. 
  • Work style conflicts – Maybe they like working alone. Or maybe in groups. Employees varying in work styles can cause conflict when working together. 
  • Personality conflicts – We’re not going to get on with absolutely everyone we meet. So, there’s a chance that employees with contrasting personalities may clash. 
  • Task-based conflicts – A lack of coordination, communication or an individual delaying a task from progressing. All of these can contribute to the cause of workforce conflict. 

These conflict types can derive from a range of different situations. Maybe a leadership style is too authoritative for a laid-back workforce. Or maybe two employees disagreed on how best to complete a task. There are many different scenarios that can create an unwanted and unnecessary clash. But it’s not all bad news. Every so often, these scenarios prove to be a blessing. 

A welcome surprise 

Surprisingly, workplace conflict can have its benefits. Better Health specified two different types of conflict that can emerge in your workplace. The first is when people’s ideas, decisions, or actions for a job are in opposition. The second is when two people just don’t get along. More commonly known as a ‘personality clash”.  

Many believe that a conflict of ideas can often boost productivity. If the parties involved are willing to come together to create a solution, workplace conflict can be avoided. This method can initiate positive change that otherwise may not have been recognized. On the flip side, two people who have a strong dislike for each other may let their egos take over.  

More often than not workplace conflict results in negative repercussions. So, let’s look at the best ways that organizations can resolve it.  

How to Resolve Workplace Conflict

Intervene at the earliest 

Resolving workplace conflict as soon as possible minimizes the prolonged risk of disagreement between employees. Significantly, it has a huge impact on the length of time it can affect an organization’s productivity too. A simple, transparent discussion can be enough to set the record straight. 

According to a new survey, 32.5% believe that miscommunication comes from supervisors and managers. Miscommunication can lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. That feeling of uncertainty should never be allowed to linger. A manager should always take action at the earliest possible time.  

Improve communication 

There’s nothing that good communication can’t solve. It’s the best way to mitigate any workplace conflict. Identifying communication tools are essential for an organization in search of an optimized workforce. If employees feel like their needs aren’t being met, you’ll need to find a way to do so.  

One form of communication that we know all too well is the employee scheduling process. Integrating employee scheduling software can help to reduce scheduling and general workplace conflicts. As an employee, not getting the schedule you desire can be hard-hitting. Your work-life balance is spiraling out of control and you only have your manager to blame for it. So, what now? 

Conflict between managers and employees should never exist. But for those who haven’t detected the best software, employee scheduling conflicts continue to happen. Preferential treatment, accidental double-bookings or a lack of direct communication. We know them all. Luckily for managers, integrating a best-of-breed employee scheduling software will reduce those human errors and optimize your scheduling process. You’ll be surprised by the reduction in workplace conflict, too. 

Take Action when Needed

Despite discussing how leadership can often be the root cause of workplace conflict, it can also be a problem solver too. Effective leadership comes from a manager who addresses the best way to prevent workplace conflict. But also, a manager who knows to step in when it’s needed. It’s important that they can distinguish what is better resolved amongst employees, and what’s not.

What to look out for? 

The obvious issues speak for themselves. Racism. Harassment. Profanity. If these workplace conflicts take place, the manager must act immediately. But amongst the standout conflicts are the ones that remain obscure. “Banter”, being one. Now in many cases, employees poking fun at one another is often harmless. And maybe a sign of a strong or developing bond. Though sometimes, it can be the opposite.  

Cybersmile’s Banter or Bullying report found that 51% of respondents believed that sometimes “banter” was used as an excuse for bullying. In the very same report, 65% said there was a clear difference between banter and bullying. If managers are aware of bullying in the workplace, they need to put every measurement in place to prevent it from happening and stop it indefinitely. Having an open-door policy will certainly allow your employees to speak up. So be sure to encourage them that they should talk to you about absolutely anything. This will ensure that you gain full clarity of every situation at hand. 

Create an open-door policy 

There are two sides to every story. And then there’s the truth. If you’re dealing with workplace conflict, you’ll need to be ready to help those involved come to a resolution. By having an open-door policy, you’re offering a helping hand by engaging with these problems actively.  

With any workplace conflict, the first thing you need to do is identify the cause of it. That may mean listening to one, two, three or many more sides of the story. The way a leader cooperates with their employees correlates with the speed and efficiency of how they resolve it. So one who creates an environment for open communication will ultimately give their employees a voice. And this can be important for motivation and morale. 

Make employees feel heard 

Employees need to feel no fear of repercussions upon speaking up. And by feeling encouraged to speak up, you can actively listen and ask questions. When employees reach out, it’s because they trust you can solve their issues. This open connection means you’ll be able to prevent conflict or stop it from escalating further.  

Work together to find a resolution 

When people come together, the speed of managing workforce conflict accelerates. Stubborn personalities can often form a stumbling block. So, you may need to use your open communication as a tool to break people down. Give them time to open up.  

Understanding the personalities of your workforce can often be the key to resolving workforce conflict. Having the knowledge of employee behaviors will give you an insight into how best to approach a situation. But more importantly, managers and employees must have respect for one another. Because that way, they can work together to find that all-important resolution. 

There’s no ‘I’ in team  

Good workplace culture can go a long way. But it will only take you so far. If there’s a troublesome few, a manager must make it clear that their employees remain professional enough to settle their differences. The way that a team works together will reflect employee morale and the workforce’s productivity. But also, in the way it works to resolve conflict. If the workplace culture aligns with the employees’ goals and attitudes, then conflict should be to a minimal. But if a competitive edge or differing personalities causes a stir, they need to show some dignity. Toward the organization’s aspirations, too. 

Can workplace conflict be resolved? 

The simple answer is yes. But is every workplace conflict straightforward to resolve? No. The approach that is taken for any given workplace conflict is likely to be different. As will the time taken for it to be resolved.  

Nevertheless, an organization should always prepare to prevent workplace conflict. This may mean you create a conflict resolution plan. Or optimize your onboarding process to ensure that you’re hiring the right people with the right personalities.  

If workplace conflict does arise, you need to act fast. First aim to understand how the conflict has emerged. This will give you greater judgment on the best way to resolve it. When you find the best resolution, make sure to document it. That way, you can use any new learning experiences to further modify and heighten your existing workforce conflict approaches.  

The bottom line is that workplace conflict can be resolved. But its unpredictability means that you should be ready to deal with whatever it is. And be prepared to learn more about your workforce along the way. 

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