Conflict at work can be a good thing. Here's how to handle it...

Vanessa Nelson

Vanessa Nelson

Vanessa was a member of Payworks’ Human Resources team from 2019-2022. With a holistic and human-centered approach to HR, she added support and value to each employee’s unique experience. Vanessa a été membre de l’équipe des ressources humaines de Payworks de 2019 à 2022. En adoptant une approche globale centrée sur l’humain pour les RH, Vanessa cherchait à soutenir les employés et valoriser leurs expériences uniques.

Conflict is inevitable – even in the workplace. As a manager or business owner, a peaceful workplace free of disagreements may seem ideal, but avoiding tension and suppressing various points of view will only cause issues to build over time and may lead to more significant problems in the future. By understanding how to create an office culture that embraces tough conversations and knows how to make them constructive, you’ll build an environment where your employees feel more comfortable and empowered to contribute their ideas and best work.

Here are the top four strategies for leaning into conflict in the workplace:

Embrace it

Conflict at work can be productive and is certainly better than letting resentments silently simmer. Not only can it show you what issues your employees feel passionately about and where problems or risks may lie within your business, it can also help your employees grow and improve as a team. By facilitating open conversations about the pros and cons of different ideas, you'll reinforce the value of disagreements when they're hashed out respectfully.

If a team conflict arises, tackle the issue head-on before it escalates further. If you discover an issue between some of your employees, coach them on productive ways to work through it. If the conflict is between two teams, approach it as an opportunity to improve interdepartmental communication.

Promote open, productive communication

The foundation of conflict resolution is communication. If two of your employees are butting heads, encourage them to meet and talk through their issues, whether alone, with you, or with an independent party who can act as a mediator.

Miscommunication can be frustrating, so to ensure this conversation is productive for both parties, each person should have ample time to share their thoughts without being interrupted. Neither employee should attack or blame their coworker during this time. Make sure that both employees stick to the specific facts at hand using "I feel" statements, rather than focusing on each other’s personality traits and "you always" accusations. Concentrate on showing respect for one another and reaching common goals collaboratively to find "win-win" solutions.

Practice active listening

Of course, talking only works if people actively listen to each other and those speaking know they're being heard. Make sure that everyone in the room is giving their full attention to the person who is talking. Nobody should be checking emails, scrolling on their phones or doodling in their notebooks. Share some active listening tips with your colleagues:

  • Your goal when listening should be to understand the other person’s perspective, rather than simply waiting for your own opportunity to speak.
  • Rephrase and repeat what a person said to make sure you understand them. For example, you might say, “You feel ‘x’ because of ‘y’. Is that correct?”
  • Give the other person an easy opportunity to clarify anything if necessary.

Provide guidance (but don’t take sides)

If you’re acting as a mediator in the discussion, remember that you're only there to assist and guide the conversation; you should never take sides. Your role is to refocus the conversation when it drifts away from the main issue or when emotions get out of hand and to ensure effective communication takes place. If possible, encourage each party to identify actionable next steps that they can take to improve the situation going forward.

By treating conflicts as an opportunity for improvement, you’ll help to create a healthier and ultimately more creative and productive workplace environment for your business.

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