Overseeing Workplace Conflict – Avoiding Pitfalls

Conflict is a part of everyday life. There is conflict at home, at work, with friends, and even conflict in nature. The fact that conflict occurs is not the issue. It is how to resolve conflict that matters most. As a manager, the last thing you want is to have conflict between employees compromising all the positive energy in the workplace, creating a stressful and unproductive work environment.
According to an article on Forbes.com, 50% of employees said they accomplished less when dealing with an office related conflict, and 46% said they thought about quitting. As leaders, it’s important to look for ways to help reduce tensions in the office. Here are five tips to help you avoid conflict in the workplace.


Positively Encouraging

First and foremost, be positive and give employees feedback. Doing this is simple, quick, and makes your employees feel as though their work is being valued. Being consistent with positive feedback will teach everyone in the office to do the same. One thing to keep in mind as a manager is that you are also a role model.

Work and Humor

Use humor to lighten up the mood in the office. Allow employees to have some fun while work. Most of us spend more time at work than we do with our friends and families. If it is all seriousness and no fun, you risk having under-productive employees who most likely will not last very long at the company.


Despite all efforts to promote a fun and positive workplace, conflicts are bound to arise from time to time. Be aware of what kind of conflict could be brewing. Is it related to someone’s personal space? Could it be over a work related task? Is it a personality clash between two individuals? Knowing what the conflict is about will give you an idea of how to handle the situation. Make your own observations; once you notice a conflict is disrupting the team’s efficiency and morale, you can start taking steps to resolve it.

Seek Advice

When in doubt about how to resolve a conflict, seek advice from someone who knows, like your company HR department or senior leadership.  An outside perspective can be beneficial and unbiased. Regardless of the steps you take to solve a conflict, you could be faced with an employee who simply refuses to change his or her attitude. This is when you take the initiative to explain the consequences and follow through with them if the situation doesn’t change.

One Step Ahead

To avoid a conflict from arising altogether, educate employees how to go about handling tense situations. Explain the importance of using a respectful tone, choosing the right words, and actively listening to what the other person has to say.
You could even host a conflict resolution seminar or find a conflict resolution expert who will come speak to your office and explain the proper way to handle a conflict at work and in life.  An informed employee is one step on the path toward a healthy work environment.

Actions to Avoid in Conflict Resolution
Do not avoid the conflict, hoping it will go away. It won’t. Even if the conflict appears to have been superficially put to rest, it will rear its ugly head whenever stress increases or a new disagreement occurs. An unresolved conflict or interpersonal disagreement festers just under the surface in your work environment.
Do not meet separately with people in conflict. If you allow each individual to tell their story, you risk polarizing their positions. The person in conflict has a vested interest in making himself or herself “right” if you place yourself in the position of judge and jury. The sole goal of the employee, in this situation, is to convince you of the merits of their case.
Do not believe the only people who are affected by the conflict are the participants. Everyone in your office and every employee, with whom the conflicting employees interact, is affected by the stress. People feel as if they are walking on egg shells in the presence of the antagonists. This contributes to the creation of a hostile work environment for other employees.

How to Mediate and Resolve Conflict
These are the steps you’ll want to take to help employees resolve conflicts in your workplace.
Meet with the antagonists together. Let each briefly summarize their point of view, without comment or interruption by the other party. This should be a short discussion so that all parties are clear about the disagreement and conflicting views. Intervene if either employee attacks the other employee. This is not acceptable.
Ask each participant to describe specific actions they’d like to see the other party take that would resolve the differences. Three or four suggestions work well. An example is, “I’d like Mary to send the report to me by Thursday at 1 p.m. so I can complete my assignment by my due date of Friday at noon.” A second example is, “I would like to have responsibility for all of the business development and follow-up with that client. The way the work is divided now causes Tom and I to never know what the other person is doing.”
All participants discuss and commit to making the changes necessary to resolve the conflict. Commit to noticing that the other person has made a change, no matter how small. Commit to treating each other with dignity and respect. It is okay to have reasonable disagreements over issues and plans; it is never okay to have personality conflicts that affect the workplace.
Let the antagonists know that you will not choose sides. It is impossible for a person external to the conflict to know the truth of the matter. You expect the individuals to resolve the conflicts proactively as adults. If they are unwilling to do so, you will be forced to take disciplinary action that can lead to dismissal for both parties.
Finally, assure both parties that you have every faith in their ability to resolve their differences and get on with their successful contributions within your shared organization. Set a time to review progress.

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