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How to manage workplace conflict?


Conflict. An inevitable occurrence amongst the living. The intensity of which ranges from the minor to the life-altering. Seeing as how all of us are no strangers to conflict, it’s prudent to learn how to deal with it effectively.

An ever-present concern is workplace conflict. The vast majority are hesitant to deal with it due to their perceived repercussions and therefore, brush it under the rug. How long can you really ignore the elephant in the room? It’s only a matter of time before things will start to get uncomfortable and the problem then becomes ‘mammoth’, so to speak.

Yes, I’m sure your office has that one person who just gets on your nerves and you think you’ve tried it all but in vain. Let’s first try to understand the two main causes of conflict and take it from there.

  • Communication (or lack thereof): If you take a look back, you’ll realize that most differences stemmed from a facet of information - lack of information, poor information, no information or misinformation. I cannot stress this enough but it’s extremely important to get all the accurate information, straight from the horse’s mouth before reacting. You’ll be surprised how much you can save in damage control later.
  • Emotions: A cornerstone of human nature, is emotions. We all have a memory of that time our emotions were so heightened that we made a regrettable spur-of-the-moment decision. This doesn’t always hold in good stead as sure enough, it’ll one day return to haunt us. An effective way to get past it is to never react on impulse. Think it through and think it through again before you react. You’ll end up saving yourself from making an unprofessional call.

4 Effective ways to deal with workplace conflict

  1. Lay down the law: Like any institution, the workplace must have a behavioral guide in place. This differs based on the type of company but it should be written in stone. Create a solid framework that encourages team-building, collaboration, leadership development and talent management. Make this guide publicly available and known to your employees from orientation. Clearly state what is absolutely unacceptable behavior and the potential consequences. Additionally, have clear job descriptions so the employees know what’s expected of them and a proper chain of command to address grievances.

  2. Pre-emptive strike: Conflict needs to be tackled head-on. Even though it’s inevitable, you can still spend some time and study the natural tensions in the office. Doing this will give you a clear idea of areas that could possibly pose a problem in the future. Intervene. So when the conflict does eventually arise, you’ll be better equipped to deal with it effectively and in a timely manner.

  3. Pick your battles: This one extends to life as well. It’s easy to get enraged about things that we deem wrong (Refer ‘Emotions’ above). Truth is, most conflicts can be resolved peacefully or as Bruce Lee once said, “The art of fighting without fighting”. It’ll serve you well to stop for a second and analyze whether it’s worth getting into it or not. If it’s a insignificant issue that will do more good if you don’t say anything, then don’t.

  4. The silver lining: Hidden in almost every conflict is a high potential for growth/ learning. What sets you apart is how you approach it and what you take from it. More often than not, there’ll be a gaping hole which is a clear indicator of an area you need to improve. In a conflict, not all is lost.
At the end of the day, keep in mind that a happy workplace is a constructive one. A breeding ground for creativity and a stepping stone for great things ahead. Fact is, wherever there is a conflict, the resolution is right around the corner if there’s a sincere desire to find it. After all, the glass is half full right?