Conflict is an inescapable part of nearly every facet of life. Your organization or workplace is no exception. But, make no mistake, as a leader, you must address it. Not doing so can have negative impacts that will harm your company. You can leverage your leadership position to help resolve conflict in the workplace. With the right strategies executed to resolve conflict, your team can grow and thrive.
What is Conflict?
Before we learn how to address conflict, let’s understand it better. Miriam Webster defines conflict as a mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands.
These opposing ideas and needs are often at the heart of conflict in the workplace. Project management prioritization is a good example. Project managers sometimes work together with a common goal on the same project. But, often the same managers will work on very different projects.
Each project manager likely has different interests and goals. Each, however, has to work with time constraints and limited resources.
In this scenario, conflict is likely to arise. Each manager probably takes their career seriously and will feel that their project takes priority over the other. When one project gets more attention or seems to be going more smoothly than another, it can result in contention among managers. In this case, the conflict can be healthy and drive leaders to prioritize projects based on the goals of the company.
In other cases, unhealthy conflict can occur based on personality and communication differences, lack of clear vision and goals by leadership and unhealthy corporate culture to name a few.
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Why Does it Happen?
We could examine the professional reasons that conflict happens: competition, opposing viewpoints, power struggles, salary discrepancies and others. However, dissension at work happens for the same reason it happens at home.
Simply put, conflict happens because we’re human. But delving deeper, it’s because each person is a complex being, each with their own personality and value system. Humans are also emotional creatures who communicate in different ways.
One person might exhibit conflict through their jealous nature. Another might be a proud and boastful person who thrives on their ego. And, sometimes we all just have a bad day and it gets the best of us.
People also have differences of opinions from one another. It’s normal. But, there’s a difference between varying opinions and conflict. Essentially, conflict magnifies when we can’t control our emotions or communicate our positions well.
So, back to the project managers I alluded to earlier. If each could learn to adequately convey their position without giving into their emotions, it would offer a more cohesive and productive foundation upon which to build their case. Also, when companies are forced to prioritize projects based on corporate goals, it results in better performance for the company as a whole.
Better communication and control of emotions may not completely prevent conflict at work. However, it can go a long way in dealing with it more effectively.
How to Deal With Conflict in Your Career Life
What if I told you it was possible to leverage opposition within your team to make it more productive and cooperative than ever?
Let’s face it. The modern business landscape is moving faster than ever. Your workplace doesn’t have time to allow conflict to cause disruptions within its team members. Your company requires a sustainable, actionable plan to help it evolve from the inside out.
When left unaddressed, conflict can create a negative work environment. It can result in loss of productivity, poor morale, increased turnover, and a lack of cooperation between team members.
Leadership is about more than making critical decisions for your company. As a leader, you have a responsibility to offer influential guidance to better your workforce. You can transform your company culture and help drive it to peak performance with less conflict.
You can help implement proactive strategies to improve interactions within your organization.
Strategy #1: Be a Leader.
Bloomberg says that managers spend from 25% to 40% of their time dealing with conflict. It’s one thing to be the CEO of a company or a departmental manager. It’s another to truly lead. You’re where you are today because of your capacity as a leader. Alphas sometimes make the mistake of thinking they have nothing more to learn. When your company or team is in trouble, sure, you have to wield your authority to prevent a crisis. But, knowing when to step back and teach as well as learn can offer huge benefits. A leader can most effectively lead by continuing to grow and remaining flexible. It’s your job to set an example by leveraging your position to become even better. A willingness to evolve and grow is a strength, not a weakness. Leading by example is the best way to foster the same behaviors in your team.
Strategy #2: Approach each situation with an open mind.
Have a conversation with each person involved in the conflict. Collaborate with your team to learn more about the conflict at hand. Try to understand where each person is coming from. If you’re actually personally involved in the conflict, try to understand the opposing view. Put yourself in their place and try to lean away from your own perspective. Cultivating an empathic nature is an essential component of emotional intelligence. It’s also essential to offer effective leadership within the workplace. It’s one thing to have a title, but it’s another to leverage it to offer profound leadership. You have the opportunity to turn conflict into a tool that can actually help your organization grow with new ideas and solutions.
Strategy #3: Learn to recognize conflict.
Remember, conflict will happen within your workplace. The key to solving those conflicts is acknowledging that it’s there. Pay particular attention during times of transition. Whether it’s a merger, increased layoffs, a buyout, or another time of change for your company, tensions are bound to rise. Coping mechanisms are reduced during stressful situations. Even a positive situation such as a company reaching a new level of success can be stressful. People try to keep up with the momentum and work harder than ever to further their careers. The point is, mood shifts and conflicts are inevitable. The key is to recognize it and address it before it escalates. Some companies even get outside help during these times to help mediate these issues.
Strategy #4: Make everyone accountable.
Accountability is what makes organizations thrive. Having a blueprint of what’s acceptable and expected in your workplace is a foundation to build upon. Create guidelines for everyone to follow. That foundation can yield more cooperation within your organization. Your workforce will better engage with one another and your company will be more productive. Remember, accountability goes both ways – for those higher on the corporate ladder as well as those in lower ranks. When management holds itself accountable, it builds trust among its workers. That, folks, is when great things are bound to happen.
Strategy #5: Intervene only if they can’t resolve their own conflicts.
Encourage those involved in the conflict to meet in the company’s conference room or another general location. Ask them to try and settle their differences and to keep their emotions out of it. Counsel and encourage each member to give each other equal time and to really listen to the other. Mentor each separately, if feasible, but give them a chance to work it out together, without you, first. Let your team members know you’re there to bounce ideas and thoughts off of. If they can’t resolve the conflict on their own, then you can step in to mediate.
Strategy #6: Mediation.
At times, mediation is a necessary component to bring conflict to a resolution. This can involve mediation from you as a leader. In other situations, it may be necessary to bring in a professional, depending on the situation. If you decide to step in, the first thing you need to remember is to offer a neutral stance on the situation. Your leadership goals involve implementing the best strategies for your company. Unfortunately, you have to remember that emotions are often at the heart of conflict. So, the best thing you can do is to keep your own emotions out of it and remain impartial. Offer each person equal time to state their position. Ensure that each party listens to the other and acknowledges what’s said. If it turns out that someone offers a personal reason for their part in the conflict, have compassion. Things happen in people’s lives: divorce, death or illness in the family, etc. These are often the big reasons people bring their emotions and home life to work. If an employee was a good employee before, they may just need time to work through their situation. In the meantime, offer an empathetic response and encourage patience on all sides. If the conflicts are business-related, encourage each person to do what’s best for the company. If it’s an ongoing conflict involving integral team members and positions, it may be time to bring in an outside professional to help resolve the conflict.
Strategy #7: Use the Conflict as an Opportunity to Grow
Each barrier in life can be an opportunity to teach new things as well as to learn from them. Perhaps you’re the CEO of your company or play another high-level role. Look at conflict in the workplace as an opportunity to build your team up. Forbes points out that conflict can encourage diversity and innovation to bring a plethora of solutions that can help your workplace thrive. When you properly address conflicting views, it has the power to transform ideas and build upon a positive foundation.
Is your workplace experiencing conflict that’s stifling its growth and progress? Stanislaw Collaborative Transformations can help. I can help create lasting solutions to bring about positive change in your work environment. Contact David Stanislaw for more insight on how together, we can implement a plan today.