How to manage work conflict

Picture of chess board
By Alex Burden, Senior Digital Editor

13 June 2016

Ever experienced a day where everyone at work seemed to simultaneously get out of bed on the wrong side?

Conflict in the workplace is common, just as it is with any large gathering of humans, in school, queues, concerts or family reunions! But how do we deal with this conflict when contracts, probation or more is lingering in the background?

It’s vital to achieve resolution as conflict can lead to operational barriers, decreased productivity, disengagement, bad moods, siloed departments or even staff turnover. Aside from this, there’s nothing worse than dreading work in the morning. If you recognise conflict within your workplace, or are having conflicts with other staff members, then there are important steps you could take to remove or reduce the source of this ‘irritation’.

Most conflicts occur because of communication issues: notably, miscommunication, absence of communication, and inappropriate communication. Conflict can also occur because of unregulated emotions, home issues, and all those other things that make us human. Severe or organisational-wide conflict should be managed through an established resolution structure, but here’s our quick-fire tips to douse the flames of personal conflict.

1. Don’t ignore it.

It will grow, it will change, and it will soon be out of your control without a well-timed diffusion strategy. It may not seem like a massive issue, but they can fester in the workplace.

2. Apologise.

Obviously, don’t apologise if it’s not your fault, but if you’ve said something that raises blood pressure then execute a well-meaning apology. If you’ve contributed to a situation getting out of hand, then top marks for recognising the part you have played and making amends for it.

3. Seek definition.

If conflict arises because requests are vague or instructions are unclear, take five minutes at the end of each meeting to summarise the ‘actions’ as you have interpreted them. Make this the time that any loose ends are tied together and get agreement on proposals going forward.

4. Put yourself in their shoes.

They may have specific objectives and feel you are providing a workflow blockage, and you feel you are being harassed for more work that does not fit with your objectives. Check if there’s a middle ground whereby both your objectives can be satisfied. Emphasise that you understand the different demands placed on employees and suggest working more closely together to help each other achieve their respective goals.

5. Forgive and forget.

Some people might be having a bad day and blow off steam in your direction. If this is an isolated incident, chalk it up to being in the wrong place at the wrong time: there is no need to build a bigger issue for yourself out of someone else’s transgression.

6. Is your response constructive?

If not, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself. An example of a constructive response would be that which decreases tempers and proposes a mutually-beneficial resolution.

7. Get a mediator.

If all else fails, speak with your manager (provided the conflict is not with them) or a supportive peer to see if they can help bring resolution. All parties need to feel that they have been heard, acknowledged and are a part of the solution.

8. Don’t get bogged down in detail.

The he-said, she-said approach won’t work and will only distract from the end-goal of getting everyone on the same page. Stay out of the prologue!

9. Office politics are an awful mire of don’t-go-there.

Especially if you are new to the business; don’t get involved, don’t chime in and don’t listen. It’s safer in the long-run.

10. Conflict-free?

Focus on how to develop your career. Conflict can distract from your progression, so keep an eye on the future when conducting office catch-ups or meetings.

Topics

  • CA Student blog

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