How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

It will be a wonderful day when businesses can run with perfect fluidity; the need for conflict management having been completely eliminated.  Unfortunately, that day is not today.  Running a successful business means bringing together a team with different specialties and expertise, and also different personalities.  This can often lead to conflict between team members, and even among upper management.

Strong workers tend to be those who are not afraid to speak their minds when facing an obstacle.  This can often lead to problems when challenges arise in the work place.  If these problems are not solved as quickly as possible they run the risk of interfering with productivity, and could even bring business as usual to a complete stop.

In order to avoid these disastrous scenarios, you must prepare strategies to face conflict and quickly repair any damage that has been done in the process of the dispute.  The following are 4 recommended techniques to manage conflict in the work place:

1)    Find the Source of the Conflict

How are you supposed to solve a problem if you don’t even know what caused it?  The first step of conflict management must be to determine the source of unhappiness.  Common work place problems tend to revolve around a few common issues, the most frequent one being that an employee feels taken advantage of.  This often refers to increased hours or workloads, without increased benefits.  This conflict can also occur when superiors do not show enough credit where credit is due, or because of misunderstandings about the job description.  Another common source of conflict is when personal goals and values are incompatible with those of the company.  Keep an eye out for these common problems and you are one step closer to ensuring a happy and efficient team.

2)    Foster Open Lines of Communication

Conflict is often elevated to unnecessary levels because there is inadequate communication within the workplace.  This refers both to the way superiors communicate with employees, and the way that employees have been taught to communicate with each other.  Explain to your team that they need to be open with each other when they are uncomfortable with something in order to avoid growing resentment and stress.  A good thing to remember when discussing communication with your team is to introduce the concept of “I” statements.  By encouraging your employees to address problems from their own point of view, instead of blaming or accusing others with “you” statements, you are fostering effective and productive communication skills.  This will help reduce conflicts, and give your team the tools necessary to solve them on their own when they do arise.

3)    Establish Boundaries

By setting up appropriate boundaries within the workplace you can greatly decrease the level of employee unhappiness.  Power struggles can often lead to conflict that would be easily avoided through the introduction of clear guidelines.  Make sure your employees understand exactly what their role is within the business.  Not only that, but make sure they understand the roles of their team members.  This will give the entire team a clear idea of what is expected of them, as well as what is expected of those around them.  With such clear boundaries in place there will be little doubt about who is supposed to be doing what, which is a common source of office conflict.  Additionally, setting up boundaries can be equivalent to setting up a chain of command.  This will be very beneficial when problems arise, and it can prevent wasted time caused by team members attempting to go “over the head” of their established superiors.

4)    Develop Consequences

Developing a disciplinary system may be the most important part of conflict management.  By introducing a system of consequences, employees can gauge the appropriateness of their behavior based on the collection of inappropriate behavior.  They will also know exactly what to expect when a rule has been broken.  For most conflicts, disciplinary action will not be necessary, as punishments should be reserved for extreme cases of misbehavior.  Having the system in place, however, will act as deterrent for less extreme behaviors.  Similarly, developing a system of rewards can be quite effective in keeping your team happy and productive.  Recognize those team members with commendable punctuality, dedication, time management, and enthusiasm.

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