Helpful Ways to Manage Conflict at Work

Conflict and Mediation at Work

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Humans are social creatures, but we each have different personalities and preferences about how we wish to be interacted with. When you put a group of people together in a building for 8 hours each day, there are bound to be disagreements. That being the case, what is vital is knowing how to effectively deal with these issues when they arise.

First, let’s look at some unhelpful ways of approaching conflict:

  • Ignoring the problem. This is rarely a useful strategy. Even if it seems helpful for a time, it’s inevitably temporary.
  • Arguing and/or blaming the other party. This is the most common way that people attempt deal with conflict, but rarely does it actually help. Blaming usually creates a defensive reaction and a cycle of negativity.
  • Taking leave. Sometimes employees take additional sick leave to underscore their dissatisfaction. This tends to just pour fuel on the fire and exacerbate conflict.
  • Undermining the other person. This might be anything from unfair gossip to actively sabotaging a project.
  • Escalating the conflict (without discussing with the other person). Sometimes people feel the need to ‘go above’ the other person. This is another avoidance strategy and can put further strain on the relationship.

The above may seem obvious, but this kind of behaviour is ubiquitous in workplaces around the world. So, now let’s walk through some more helpful strategies for dealing with conflict at work:

  • Take personal responsibility. It is almost never the case that one party is entirely at fault. Consider how your actions may have contributed to the problem. Perhaps you could have been more pro-active, supportive, considerate or respectful? Do you communicate clearly? So frequently, disagreements result from a breakdown in clear communication.
  • Meet for an open discussion. Set up a meeting with the other person and try to resolve the issue together. Always acknowledge your own potential faults and give the other person space to put forwards their concerns.
  • Consider involving a third party as a mediator. When a relationship is strained, an objective outsider may be able to see both sides of the disagreement. Try to find someone experienced in mediation – this could be a senior manager, a HR executive, a trusted peer, or an external consultant.
  • Create a plan. Set out a plan to ensure that old tensions don’t return. What will each party do to prevent future problems? For example, one strategy is to communicate verbally, rather than via email. This can give clarity to conversations and limit the risk of misunderstandings. Regular face-to-face meetings can also be useful, even if they are very brief.