Workplace conflict has varying definitions as well as different effects on the entire office. Work-related disagreements are normal and even healthy. Productive teams are those whose members are comfortable enough to disagree with each other. Disagreements can lead to change and new ideas and can spur the team or office on to newer and better things. Non work-related disagreements aren’t necessarily a concern as most employees move past these on their own. Interpersonal conflicts, however, need to be avoided if possible and resolved as soon as they crop up.
Almost every office will have some interpersonal disagreement or conflict at some point, and managers need to know how to recognize and then diffuse the situation before lasting damage is done. Conflicts are detrimental to company morale as well as profitability. Studies have shown that unaddressed conflicts waste an average of 8 hours of company time. The waste comes in the form of gossip and other unproductive activities centered around the conflict. There is also a chance that an unresolved conflict may lead to the resignation of a valuable employee, and recruitment and training of new talent are more expensive than taking the time to resolve the dispute and retain the employee.
Managers and Human Resources need to step in when the conflict becomes unhealthy. A workplace conflict is considered unhealthy when it becomes a personal attack and is fueled solely by emotions. Judgements become clouded, and the entire office is affected.
Signs it’s time to step in include:
- One or both employees threatens to quit
- The conflict is affecting the morale and productivity of the entire office
- The conflict is personal, and respect is being lost
Types to resolving workplace conflicts include:
- Meet with the affected parties together. If you meet with the parties separately, you risk isolating each side of the story instead of seeing it as a whole. You also create an environment where the individual’s sole goal is to sway you to their side of the conflict. It is impossible for a third party to know the truth of the situation, so let them know you will not choose sides. During this joint meeting, have each individual summarize their side without embellishment and interruption from the other.
- Have each party describe their ideal resolution. After they’ve told their side, the individuals need to lay out exactly what kind of solution they prefer. They need to be specific about what changes they would like the other to make, offering about 3 to 4 suggestions.
- Discuss the recommendations at length until a decision is made. As the manager, it is your job to ensure unreasonable changes aren’t requested or committed to. Both parties need to decide which changes are reasonable and acceptable that they are willing to commit to.
- Committing and following through needs to be a requirement. Failure to follow through and live up to their word must be met with disciplinary action up to and including dismissal of one or both parties. You must provide a reassuring atmosphere for the individuals, and make sure they know you have faith in their abilities to follow through and resolve the conflict.
- Accept your responsibility. As the manager, you must be ready to recognize and accept your part in the conflict. Whether directly or indirectly, you almost certainly played a role, and during the meeting, this part may become apparent, or one of the parties may explain it for you. Own up to your part in the conflict and if it’s needed, make your own commitments for resolution.