Whether you run a mom ‘n’ pop start-up or an established multimillion-dollar firm, it’s likely that you’ll have to face down the specter of workplace conflict sooner or later. Even the most functional, team-oriented, drama-free workplaces eventually have to deal with some form of conflict, whether it’s a minor dust-up or a no-holds-barred dispute.
Although dealing with it can be a drag, workplace conflict isn’t the end of the world—in fact, some organizational experts say that a moderate amount of disagreement between team members can actually be beneficial, encouraging a dynamic of back-and-forth discussion and interactivity that can help fuel the creative fires and boost group problem-solving skills.
So what’s the difference between workplace conflicts that inhibit productivity and those that can actually be helpful? According to the leading gurus in the field, it’s all about how you handle each instance of disagreement. Here are some guidelines to help you address workplace conflict in a positive, proactive manner.
Defuse tensions. When workplace conflict rears its head, the first thing you have to do is to ratchet down the emotional element of the problem. If the exchange is really heated, it may be best to impose a cooling-off period until everyone has calmed down a bit. Problems can’t get solved when emotions are running high—it’s best to make sure all involved parties are calm and able to think rationally before moving forward.
Define the problem. When cooler heads prevail, it’s time to try to get at the root of the conflict. Have each party provide an account of their own side of the story. Ask them to stick as closely to the facts as they can, leaving out sweeping generalizations and emotion-laden asides. After they’ve laid out their version of events, ask each person for a brief summary of the main problem from their perspective.
Look for underlying causes. Setting aside the facts of the case for a moment, work with each party to determine whether there is more to this conflict than meets the eye. Is there longstanding tension between these team members? Are issues from outside of the workplace, such as friendships or personal relationships, contributing to the problem?
Discuss clashes of style, culture, and perspective. Perhaps the team members involved in the conflict have different ways of working and looking at the world. For example, if one person involved in the conflict is a highly technical IT expert and the other focuses on marketing, they probably have starkly divergent backgrounds, points of reference, and problem-solving styles.
Work towards a mutually agreeable outcome. Ask each party to describe what they would consider to be the ideal outcome. Then, work with everyone who played a part in the conflict to develop a compromise solution that seems fair and expedient to the group. Conclude the conflict resolution process by discussing how similar problems will be handled in the future.
Is conflict an ongoing problem at your firm? What are the most effective techniques you use to manage conflict? Talk back in the comments.