No one enjoys conflict in the workplace, least of all the managers who have to deal with it. Naturally, the best way to clean up the mess is through conflict prevention. As the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and prevention is the solution to workplace conflict. It’s a manager’s job to stay ahead of conflict and nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand. In this article, we’re going to show you how managers can avoid conflict in the workplace.
“50% of employees say they accomplish less when dealing with an office-related conflict, and 46% say they have thought about quitting.” – Forbes
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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%)
In another study, personality clashes accounted for almost 50% of all workplace conflicts.
This brings us to our next point,
Workplace conflict is bad
Workplace 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%)
Between men and women, negative emotions tend to hit women harder with women reporting feeling stressed more often than men. These results were corroborated by a European study that also found women having a greater negative emotional fallout due to conflict in the workplace.
Measuring how these emotional stresses impact performance is difficult. But, what we know from the results of the study is that nearly half of all employees reported losing focus on their work or becoming distracted, losing motivation, and sometimes missing deadlines. As a result of all of this workplace conflict, around 14% ended up taking time off of work.
Conflicts in the workplace aren’t only emotionally draining but also use valuable time and resources to resolve. According to another workplace conflict survey from the United States and Europe, the average employee spends around 2.1 hours every single week dealing with workplace conflict. This averages out to around one full day a month or two and a half weeks per year. That’s a lot of lost productive time!
And resolving these conflicts sometimes drags out, with over one-third of arguments lasting longer than a month. With ongoing workplace issues hanging above their heads, employees can find themselves struggling to work to their full potential, leading to a productivity loss of over an entire month due to these conflicts.
Steps to resolve conflicts must be taken, otherwise, the time spent and the emotional impact of conflict in the workplace snowballs and creates larger issues. This can lead to a host of additional problems like an increase in employee turnover, a dip in employee morale, and other problems. These issues can endanger the long-term goals of the company itself.
Interestingly, some workplace conflicts are good and are beneficial to a little bit of healthy conflict.
Workplace Conflict is also Good
Conflict 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.”
Naturally, not all workplace conflict is going to be good. There are times when a manager needs to parent their employees, says Brit Poulson, psychologist and leadership/development expert.
Managers must take the initiative, and directly address any conflicts before they become too heated. “Step into the role of authority the employees need you to take,” he says.
So here are a few ways to avoid conflict in the workplace:
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. Chappell
The same can be said about using culture in the workplace to avoid conflict.
Stop Ignoring It
Don’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 People
Culture 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 Clashes
According 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.
Culture 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 James
It 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 Team
A 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?
Managers often think their team is running smoothly until an occurrence of one of the issues above proves otherwise, and all hell breaks loose. Don’t let it happen to your team.
Stay Informed of Tasks, Projects, Obstacles & Emotions
The solution here is surprisingly simple; keep tabs on what is happening with your team. A tool like Jell, for daily standups, regular one-on-ones, and task/goal tracking allows a manager to stay informed and prevent conflict or other high-cost situations such as losing a client or employee because of internal chaos.
As a manager, checking in allows you to communicate with your team easily and effectively.
In Jell, set goals at every level of your organization Your team can view them all in one place whether you prefer annual or quarterly goals.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the importance of one-on-one meetings here for keeping the pulse on your team and their work. While the value of daily standups might speak for themselves, taking time to listen to, understand, and mentor each team member is even more important, so don’t overlook or undervalue these appointments.
We’ve put together 28 questions for you to use in your regular one-on-one, you can download them as part of our one-on-one guide here.
Be Proactive In One-on-One Meetings
When you use these questions with our check-in meeting option before your one-on-one call, you and your team member set the agenda for your call. You both know what you’ll be talking about, and you can cover several areas more quickly for a solid, productive call.
Knowing if your team member is struggling by simply asking is paramount to avoid conflict. If they are heavily stressed in their personal life, that leaks into work time. If they are conflicting with another team member, you can handle that before anything is blown out of proportion.
Open Your Ears, Close Your Mouth
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating; listen, especially in one-on-one meetings. When there is a conflict it is even more important to listen and let people involved feel heard. Like this article from SideRoad suggests, you can’t argue with feelings, you can understand them and show empathy, but only by listening first.
“Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding.” Dale Carnegie
Management is like maintaining a well-oiled machine. You have to put in the time to prevent issues through maintenance and things will run smoothly. But if you don’t take preventative measures, you’ll be replacing parts, dealing with downtime, and juggling repairs.
Stay ahead of your team’s potential chaos by following the tips here. Honing your management skills is a must and will always yield more in return than fixing problems down the line.
Start your 14-day Jell trial now. When you love it we’ll charge $1-$2 per week for each employee on your team. That’s just $52 a year per employee to help stave off conflict and chaos.