Q: What do you call a conflict-free workplace?
A: A fairy tale.
While it sounds enticing to live in a conflict-free work environment or a conflict-free world for that matter, it is not possible to avoid conflict entirely. You have to be prepared for some amount of conflicts at some point in your career. Therefore, learning to navigate conflicts and bringing them to resolution is the path forward.
Here are some interesting facts:
- It is estimated that more than 65% of performance problems result from strained relationships between employees. [source: Workdyn]
- The typical manager spends 25-40% of his or her time dealing with workplace conflicts. That’s one to two days of every work week. [Source: Washington Business Journal, May 2005.]
- The number of violent incidents in the workplace has been increasing steadily, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Nearly 60 percent of respondents said violence had occurred in their organization during the past three years, and they identified “personality conflicts” as the leading cause. [Source: Zupek].
Clearly, the impetus is to work through conflict in a healthy way to avoid these productivity pitfalls. There are many styles of conflict resolution, among which are: Confrontational, Compromising, Collaborating, Accommodating, and Avoiding [Source: Gatlin, Wysocki, and Kepner]. Knowing how and when to use one or a combination of these styles can provide you the leverage you need.
In this article, I will give you some helpful tips for navigating the workplace conflict. Here are six (6) suggestions.
- Define acceptable behavior. Create a framework for what constitutes acceptable behavior. This is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them, and a well-articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help avoid conflicts. Clearly and publicly make it known what will and won’t be tolerated.
- Don’t take it personally. Disagreements among people are natural and it’s also natural for co-workers to experience different emotions and perspectives based on their own personal experiences. Your role as the manager is to “be cool”, that is, stay calm and listen to both sides with an open mind. If you can put yourself in both person’s shoes, you will be able to listen empathetically and facilitate the conversation to a beneficial resolution for both. Remember that in every story there are 3 sides: person 1, person 2 and the truth.
- Listen to the other person’s perspective. Allow the other person to clarify his or her point of view. Keep in mind that turning a conflict into a learning situation has many lasting benefits for your own well-being and your career. Usually in a conflict what parties want is for the other person to really understand the other’s perspective. It’s easy to forget that both sides want the same thing – to listen and be heard. Do everything you can to force yourself to pay close attention and provide affirmation by reiterating what you think you heard.
- Your willingness to compromise shows that you aren’t letting anger or stubbornness hamper your actions. Identify the issues that you simply can’t compromise on and let the others slide. When you demonstrate a willingness to compromise, will make it easier to win on issues you really care about. If you respect the other person’s point of view will help you arrive at a win-win solution that will benefit the entire department or company.
- As much as possible, set aside your emotions. This will help you project a thoughtful manner that will be respected more than a raging tirade. When confronted with an emotional situation, it’s important to have a cooling down period to be able to diffuse the immediate reactions and help identify the real issue that’s causing the problems. Take a break, drink a glass of water and take a deep breath before responding.
- View the conflict as an opportunity. Within conflict, there is a potential for tremendous learning and professional development. Where there is disagreement, there is potential for greater understanding. When positions vary greatly, there is the potential to stimulate innovative ideas and solutions that diverge from conventional methods. Taking into account these varying points of view can provide an upside for the organization. Avoidance of conflict is generally not a good idea because workplace conflicts do not tend to resolve themselves. They are far more likely to worsen over time and lead to rifts within a team. Address conflicts as soon as possible and don’t let them fester hence turning a small problem into a full-blown crisis.
The bottom line is that the way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. And remember that if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve.
CEO, MACH4 Ventures
Gina Lepore is the CEO and founder of MACH4 Ventures offering coaching, team building and execution consulting for individuals and organizations. She is a board certified coach and experienced executive with multiple decades of practical business experience. Services include: Executive Coaching, Training and Building Team Trust and Collaboration and Business Oversight Services.