Managing Conflict in the Workplace

When multiple individuals work as a team, conflict is inevitable – but it doesn’t have to be negative.  When managed constructively, conflict can spur productivity, generate new ideas, and break through creative blocks.  When conflict is allowed to fester, however, it can greatly decrease employee morale and productivity.

Here are five strategies for managing conflict in the workplace:

  1. Define acceptable behavior. Clarifying what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t – especially when a conflict arises – can solve many interpersonal problems before they start.  Create a process for employees to follow when conflict between themselves and another team member arises.  Specify how the problem should be handled initially and who should be asked to step in if the team members cannot resolve it themselves.  Clearly define job duties so that each employee knows what falls into his or her sphere of responsibility, and encourage effective communication among all team members and between the team and its supervisors.
  2. Stop conflicts before they start. A proactive approach to conflict management seeks out potential areas of conflict and addresses them before they develop into a real fight.  Take the time to identify and understand the natural tensions among team members and make some educated guesses about where interpersonal conflicts are likely to occur.  Keep these considerations in mind when assigning work and scheduling team projects.  If a conflict does arise, meet it head-on as early as possible to prevent it from spiraling out of control and affecting the productivity and morale of the entire team.
  3. Prioritize the overall goal. Understanding the position of each participant in a conflict can foster empathy and lead the way to resolution.  Another way to reach a resolution is to identify each person’s overall goal and build a solution that gets each participant where they want to be.  Focus on taking the action that helps the parties best achieve their goal, and avoid many of the details that might otherwise hinder a quick settling of differences.
  4. Choose your battles. Not all employee conflicts are appropriate territory for managers.  Likewise, avoiding conflict for the sake of conflict is key to effective management.  If the issue is important enough that the resulting conflict affects the team’s productivity, however, it is likely important enough for managers to step in to moderate and seek a solution to the problem.
  5. Look for the opportunity. Despite its reputation as a productivity killer, conflict is inherently neither good nor bad.  Turn inter-team conflicts to your advantage by looking for the potential for growth, learning, and development each problem poses.  When addressed properly, differing opinions that might otherwise lead to conflict can instead promote innovation, creative problem-solving, and cooperation.

TERRA Staffing’s experienced recruiters understand that to reduce the chances of conflict in the workplace, you should make sure the team you hire is a good fit for the company culture. To learn how we can find talent that will be a good fit in your organization, contact us today!

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