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How many times have you seen your marketing and sales teams down each other’s throats? How about angry teammates who refuse to even be in the same room?
Conflicts at workplaces are not a rarity — happens everywhere, and are unavoidable. But, what happens after the conflict makes all the difference.
As the team lead, you’d want to take conflict resolution very seriously. Nobody can get a team to function when they do not get along with one another.
This article will help you understand the causes of conflicts at workplaces and ways to build conflict resolution skills.
We will also give you a low-down on the various conflict resolution strategies. Let’s dive right in.
Humans are instinctive and emotional. Even a casual shrug of the shoulders is enough to create tensions. So, before we get into conflict resolution, let’s first learn more about the causes of conflicts at workplaces.
As long as robots don’t take over, every employee in an organization won’t be the same. You can’t expect everyone to get along without frictions. Clashes, no matter how much you hate them, are inevitable.
Most workplace clashes happen due to the fundamental incompatibility between personalities. It could be down to a variety of reasons — the difference in their school of thought, upbringing, value systems, attitude towards work, and more.
Often, these clashes lead to public confrontations and arguments. It can also unfold in more subtle ways – an employee withdrawing from a discussion due to a colleague, an employee taking more sick leaves, and so on.
It is a coping mechanism our body has developed to overcome physically or mentally challenging situations. When we are in a tough spot, certain hormones are released that prepare our body to either stay and deal with the threat or to run away to safety.
The fight or flight response is a hard-wired human survival instinct. It is meant to help us cope with life-threatening situations. Now it gets activated when we are put in stressful situations.
This often happens at workplaces when a co-worker confronts us about something. Meaning, we will either flee the scene somehow or defend ourselves by yelling back at them.
Every word has a literal meaning — and then there are words with strong emotional connections. Everytime you hear or read the word, it triggers a memory or a particular feeling.
For example, an employee might not like the word ‘slow’ because they were bullied in school for being a slow learner. Such words can easily trigger an aggressive reaction.
When such words get thrown around in the workplace, it is very easy for things to go sideways and end up in conflicts.
It is not easy to forget bad experiences — they cloud our judgment and we tend to base our future decisions on them.
For instance, if you couldn’t get along with employees from a certain institution, you form an opinion that everyone from that college is difficult.
Such sweeping generalizations often end in clashes, as we are stubborn about our opinions.
We feel suppressed when our expressions are shunned or when someone doesn’t pay attention. This creates unrest and discontent. As time passes, it will turn into animosity, ultimately leading to clashes.
Imagine you are in charge of a sales team. A teammate closes a massive deal without consulting you and offered a discount of 25%. You rebuke him and he retorts saying there weren’t any explicit instructions about it. And it turns into a full-blown argument.
Such conflicts stem from the lack of clarity. If you had clearly briefed him or if he had confirmed with you, it wouldn’t have happened.
Frequent policy changes are not easy to take. Imagine telling employees there is a provision to work from home, only to revoke it a couple of weeks later. Employees are bound to feel a little hard done by. More often than not, this creates a toxic feeling inside them.
All of us have come across colleagues who are hyper-competitive — it breeds arrogance more often than not. Such behavior can, and will, rub off co-workers the wrong way.
Now that we know what causes conflicts at workplaces, it is time to learn how you can prevent or resolve them.
Conflict resolution, by definition, is the process by which parties in disagreement can come to a peaceful solution.
Conflict resolution cannot be achieved by pressuring people. That’s a short-term solution. It creates pent-up tension, and eventually, it will just ruin any kind of trust and rapport present between the two conflicting parties.
Instead of pressuring them to give in, you need to learn to resolve these conflicts amicably.
Being a people-person is not enough to be good at conflict resolution. It requires a multi-pronged approach. You have to improve your communication skills, listening skills, negotiation skills, and your knowledge of employees.
Active listening is a communication technique that involves paying attention, withholding judgment, reflecting, clarifying, summarizing and sharing.
You have to dedicate your full concentration to what the speaker is saying. Here are a few ways to develop your active listening skills:
“Without empathy, we can’t get to conflict resolution, altruism, or peace” ~ Mary Gordon
Being empathetic is the first step in conflict resolution. It calms everyone down and helps you chart out a reasonable course of action.
An excellent way to develop empathy is to regularly talk to people from different backgrounds.
You get a good understanding of their daily life, the problems they face, their routine, and more. And when a conflict arises, you will be to interact and deal with them effectively.
For example, when you are familiar with the problems your finance team faces on a daily basis, you are in a better position to relate with them or understand the gravity of a situation.
Case-studies, online demo videos, and role-plays will give you a first-hand experience of how to resolve conflicts.
Encourage yourself to identify (a) what they did right, (b) what went wrong, and (c) how the actors could have handled things differently.
When you are negotiating, separate the persons involved from the problem, and then, engage with the issues individually.
This’ll help you stay non-judgemental and not let your feelings influence your decisions. When the focus is on the problem, there are more chances of the parties collaborating with you.
There are multiple angles to conflict resolution:
Truth be told, most of us consider mediating a conflict as a waste of time. We have better things to do, isn’t that right?
If we go in with this kind of an approach, we are setting ourselves up to fail. However, if you don’t address it, the bickering will get worse and lead to a very toxic environment.
Here are a few strategies to help you with conflict resolution:
Productive meetings go a long way toward resolving conflicts. As the mediator, you have to turn the focus away from the problem and towards the solution. The key to it: prepare well, create a great atmosphere, and act as a guide/facilitator.
A few tips to help you:
I can already imagine you rolling your eyes and going ‘yeah, right’. How can you expect to find a common ground when people are at each other's throats? The simple answer is - yes, you can!
Let’s look at a scenario: the sales manager and the dev. team lead of your SaaS company are involved in a conflict. The reason – the sales manager is insistent on building certain new feature, but the dev team rejected the idea.
The dev. team lead believes they won’t be able to dedicate enough resources to it. The sales manager is insistent because many customers have requested for the same feature. Additionally, he feels with Black Friday coming up, it could be a great selling point.
So, how do you find a common ground in this case?
In our example, it could be that both the individuals agree on offering something special for Black Friday. Use that to bring both parties to the discussion table.
We make assumptions all the time, it makes our lives easier. For example, when we see a teammate worried and frequently walking out talking on their phone, we assume they’ve got some personal problems. And that will influence our interactions with them, we’ll be far more cautious and considerate.
Things go wrong when we make false assumptions based on misconceptions and inaccurate information. In workplaces, acting on or perpetuating assumptions by sharing it with others can easily end up creating or escalating conflicts.
For example, if there is a rumor going around that the finance team is showing favoritism toward the sales team, every decision of theirs will be scrutinized by other teams to prove their point.
When you are mediating a conflict, it is up to you uncover these kinds of false assumptions:
Clearing up misconceptions makes it easier for people to see how their interests align.
It’s important to make sure you aren’t making any false assumptions yourself. Proper preparation is the key to avoiding this. Do your research and make sure your facts are correct.
Mediation doesn’t always mean you have to find solutions. Sometimes, it is about finding the root cause of the conflict and eliminating it.
Imagine this scenario: your support team lead and one of the agents are not on good terms. This has dramatically reduced the productivity of the team. The team lead believes the agent has a condescending attitude while the agent thinks that the team lead is a micromanager.
After sitting down with both the parties, you realized that:
(a) the agent doesn’t always copy the team lead when replying to support emails despite explicit instructions to do so.
(b) the team lead keeps sending emails to agents on how to deal with customer emails.
Basically, the conflict stems from poor email management and lack of delegation options in the email. So, how do you eliminate this problem?
Remember, every conflict has an underlying problem. As the mediator, you have to identify it, separate it from the parties involved, and aim to eliminate it.
If you are a business owner or a team lead, you are bound to get into conflicts with your teammates. If you haven’t, well, you must have some secret mind control powers.
Here are a few conflict resolution strategies that you can adopt:
Self-control is a big asset when you are involved in a conflict. The ability to stay in control of your emotions will help ensure that you don’t indulge in ‘stirring the pot’ behavior such as making threats, shouting, preaching, sarcasm, mocking, etc.
Not everyone on this planet is blessed with great self-control. But the good thing is that you can develop it. From a conflict resolution point of view:
Hiring a third party will ensure there are no allegations of bias. They shouldn’t be from your network or your opponent's. It should be someone both parties trust to be fair.
Here are a few things a third party mediator can help you with:
Conflicts will happen no matter what, but you can always reduce the chances of it happening. Better safe than sorry, right?
Here are a couple of strategies to prevent conflicts:
Whether you are a small business owner or a team lead, you can’t resolve every conflict by your organization or team by yourself. Here’s why:
This is why it is crucial to create multiple resolution points. Different points can cater to different issues. For example, an HR supervisor should be allowed to handle salary related issues, a supervisor from the finance team for budget-related issues, and so on.
If your organization is very small, hire an external party like a coach or a mentor to solve these conflicts.
On an average, employees lose 2.1 hours and managers about 20 percent of their time to conflict resolution. This is why it is so important to train your employees in conflict resolution.
When employees are also trained in conflict resolution, the chances of them entering into conflicts will be significantly less. You can train your employees in conflict resolution by organizing group collaboration activities, role-plays, simulations, etc.
Always remember, unresolved conflicts have a direct impact on your and your team’s productivity. It leads to unfulfilled potential. That’s something small businesses owners or team leads cannot afford.
Conflicts create divisions between departments, teams, and individuals. The above-listed strategies will help you bridge this divide and create closeness. Eventually, it will help build trust and a safe work environment where people are not afraid to express themselves.
Sucheth is a content marketer at Hiver. He is a marketer by day and an avid reader by night.