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Why do conflicts occur in the workplace?Conflicts in the workplace are common. In fact, according to a New Zealand study, 24% of employees surveyed had at least one disagreement or argument at work that was serious enough to intrude on their daily functions at work. The top reasons for conflict? Of the top surveyed, some reasons included:
- Differences in ideas on how to perform a task (21%)
- Procedures or politic (17%)
- Working conditions and hours (14%)
- Personality clashes or bullying (13%)
- Bad relationship with co-workers (10%)
Workplace conflict is badWorkplace conflict is bad for businesses because it can lead to dips in productivity and increase absenteeism, not to mention it makes for an aggravating and stressful work environment. That same New Zealand study showed that employees’ most common reactions to those conflicts are
- Anger (83%)
- Stress (57%)
- Anxiety (47%)
- Loss of self-esteem (25%)
- Insomnia (25%)
Workplace Conflict is also GoodConflict doesn’t need to be negative. Healthy workplace debates and respectful disagreements are beneficial to the growth of your company.Healthy workplace conflict allows for creativity and stronger idea circulation. It also leads to more engaged employees. Think of debates, healthy competition, and industry disruption–these are all examples of conflict leading to fresher perspectives and growth.So, why is it beneficial? Workplace conflict
- Encourages thorough investigation of workplace issues. When a group disagrees, thorough investigations may be conducted. And when the group comes to a final decision, it’ll be based on additional knowledge obtained from the conflict. More knowledge→ greater understanding of issues→ better decisions.
- Fosters creativity. In Nonflict: The Art of Everyday Peacemaking, co-author Stephen Hecht calls conflict a co-creative process “where the disagreeing parties come together to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.” This involves understanding one another’s needs and imaging in the best-case scenario together. “Most people define conflict with a negative connotation, but conflict is when two different ideas come into contact with each other,” Hecht said, “if you deal with conflict in a constructive way, there is opportunity.”
- Can signal underappreciation. President of Red Letter Films, Sylvie Peltier, says that in her industry, conflict comes from an individual’s unmet needs to be appreciated. “If you’re able to acknowledge their strengths and make them feel appreciated, they’ll play nice with the rest of the team,” she said.
- Can signal unclear guidelines. Employees like clear, direct goals and when procedures aren’t clear, employees can conflict with one another under the assumption that their way is the correct one. “A major cause of workplace flare-ups is lack of role clarity,” writes Mark Schnurman. “Take the time upfront to clarify expectations. A brief conversation initially can save a lot of time and angst later.”
Avoid Conflict With Culture“The right tools for solving disputes within our community are precision instruments such as reason, communication, empathy, curiosity, and understanding. They are also the right tools for building a global civilization of peace and prosperity.” Paul K. ChappellThe same can be said about using culture in the workplace to avoid conflict.
Stop Ignoring ItDon’t avoid conflict. Ignoring conflict in the workplace may seem like the best option because you can ignore the problem and hope that it’s swept under the rug. The thing is, ignoring these tense situation can make them build up and fester over time. Employees start to feel uncomfortable at work or are increasingly taking time off. Dealing with conflict as soon as it occurs avoids an awkward and uncomfortable environment developing in your workplace.
It Starts With Hiring The Right PeopleCulture offers a major helping hand when it comes to conflict, by helping you shape the company through hires, and using guidelines, mantras, etc to establish how issues are handled.For instance, if part of your company culture is to over communicate because you have a distributed team, you’d want to hire people that easily express themselves to ensure you won’t have friction later on.Likewise, choosing people who at least appear to be open, understanding of emotion, and able to compromise, along with the other necessary characteristics that match your culture.You’ll appreciate these soft skills when stress increases from deadlines or the team member is handling difficult personal issues (that often supersede conflict at work).
Be Aware of Personality ClashesAccording to an OPP report, 49% of workplace conflict is attributed to personality clashes. Managers find this problem especially difficult to resolve, even though there’s value in identifying workplace tensions.As a manager, it’s your responsibility to promote an air of camaraderie on the team. This doesn’t mean everyone has to get along and that you need to force others to get along. It means knowing who gets along best with whom and placing your employees into groups accordingly.
Encourage GuidelinesCulture isn’t just about hiring for certain qualities, it’s also about how management leads which can and should include guidelines for personal/professional growth, conflict among coworkers, humor (clean but necessary for a happy workplace), even Slack guidelines for tone, use of channels, etc.“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” William JamesIt sounds tedious but acting before there is a problem goes a long way in preventing conflict. There are a lot of tools and options for communication and task management on the market, and many companies put guidelines in place for Asana, Slack, Trello, Email, and Calendars.**A special note for companies with remote/off location team members**When Slack or email are the primary interaction tools for your team, tone is wildly important, as an off-the-cuff harmless message can easily be taken in the wrong context.Ask your team to reread messages for tone before they send them and if they are feeling snarky to take a break or approach you for one-on-one time.
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Avoid Conflict in The Workplace By Keeping The Pulse Of Your TeamA manager needs to know what their team is doing, and yet often doesn’t know enough to prevent conflict.How many times in your management career has:
- A team member duplicated another member’s effort?
- Someone been stuck on a task waiting for someone else?
- A project moved forward or been postponed without your knowledge?
- A project slowed in production because of team members butting heads?
- Important work fell through the cracks because no one was responsible for it?