Conflict in the workplace is inevitable – if you bring any group of people together, there is bound to be friction, and work is no different. In our previous article, we looked at the idea of feedback from managers. However, there is helpful conflict that leads to growth and unhelpful conflict that consumes time, energy, and morale. In fact, a study conducted last year found that on average, managers spend over 4 hours a week dealing with conflict. And the more time an individual spends on workplace conflict, the lower their reported job satisfaction and feelings of inclusion.
That is to say; workplace conflict is bad for you, your team, and the company as a whole. So it’s vital that you have strategies in place to prevent and deal with workplace conflict as it arises. This is true for in-person, remote, and hybrid teams, which all suffer from workplace conflict, although for slightly different reasons. The previously mentioned study found that in-office employees cited “poor communication” as a cause for conflict more often than either hybrid or remote employees. On the other hand, hybrid workers reported “transparency” as a point of conflict far more often than their remote or in-office colleagues.
Whatever the root causes, it’s essential that you have the tools and knowledge to deal with workplace conflict in a healthy way. Below, we go through some of the most common reasons for workplace conflict, some simple signs for spotting it, strategies for preventing and resolving workplace conflict, and some techniques for those balancing a remote team.
Common Causes of Workplace Conflict
Workplace conflict can be caused by any number of things and includes interpersonal issues as well as professional disagreements. Most of these conflicts will stem from the same handful of issues, which include:
1. A Lack of Communication
As mentioned above, poor communication in the workplace is often sighted by team members as a source of conflict. This can include communication between managers and staff, the company and teams, or individual team members. Poor communication can consist of a lack of information and poorly delivered or received information.
2. Differences In Personality or Work Style
Another common cause of workplace conflict is clashing personalities and styles. This one is likely to occur in any group and is almost inevitable. However, how it’s dealt with it can make or break a team. Even though it can feel very personal, clashes over workstyle can often be resolved using simple communication methods, which we’ll get to later.
3. Power Struggles
Both a type of conflict and a source of one, power struggles in the workplace are all too common when people’s roles aren’t clear. “Stepping on toes” can lead to skirmishes while team members find their place within an organization.
4. Organizational Changes
Human beings struggle with change, and unfortunately, this can lead to workplace conflict. This can be due to no longer knowing one’s role in a team (as with power struggles), a change in perceived workload, or conflicts arising through new vs. established relationships and interactions.
Signs of Workplace Conflict
Whatever the cause of the workplace conflict, it will often manifest itself in a similar way, and the first step to addressing conflict is being able to identify it. Below are four of the most common signs that there is conflict in your team and that it’s time to do something about it.
1. Increased Absenteeism or Turnover
Nobody wants to work in an office plagued by conflict (even if that office is remote), which is why ongoing workplace disagreements can quickly cause staff to leave. This could be in the form of absenteeism – people simply do not turn up to work when they should or call in sick when they aren’t. Or, it could be people leaving the company for roles elsewhere, causing a high turnover of employees. Both of these severely impact your team and company as a whole.
2. Tension or Arguments Between Employees
Another clear sign of workplace conflict is open arguments in the office. It may sound simple, but keeping an ear to the ground and an eye on your team can be a highly effective way to catch conflicts as they appear. This doesn’t have to be shouting matches in the hallway (although it can be), with many disputes starting as underhand comments or poorly-toned remarks.
3. Reduced Productivity or Quality of Work
Workplace conflict can lead to poor performance, so reduced productivity and quality of work can also be used as a sign that something is wrong. If you have a normally strong team, and they start to underperform, one of the causes could be conflict. This is especially likely if a change has recently occurred – such as a new team member or structural adjustment.
4. Complaints or Grievances
Sometimes, it’s not about working out if there’s conflict, it’s just about listening. Maybe team members, especially if they feel comfortable, will report things they aren’t happy with. This can be through formal channels, such as surveys or anonymous reports. However, many complaints may also be aired in informal settings, such as during coffee breaks or after work. Keep these in mind for later.
Strategies to Prevent Workplace Conflict
Prevention is better than cure, as the old proverb goes, and this is certainly true for workplace conflict. It’s considerably easier to avoid conflict and all the issues that come with it, before it starts rather than having to de-escalate it down the line. Here are a few of the best strategies to prevent workplace conflict today.
1. Promote Open Communication
Since a lack of communication can cause workplace conflict, it’s no surprise that one of the first steps to preventing disagreements is establishing and promoting open communication in your company. This should be between managers and staff, company and teams, and between individuals.
2. Encourage Team Building and Collaboration
Workplace conflicts that come out of personality clashes of different working styles can often be avoided by fostering a more collaborative atmosphere. In this way, people stop looking at problems as “my solution vs your solution” and instead approach teamwork challenges as “our solution,” helping reduce conflicts in approach.
3. Establish Clear Roles and Responsibilities
One of the most important things you can do to reduce workplace conflict is to establish clear roles and responsibilities. Having well-defined duties can immediately reduce the chance of power struggles since everyone already knows where they stand. This is especially important during organizational changes, as team members can feel “lost,” which leads to workplace conflict.
4. Provide Conflict Resolution Training
Finally, a great way to prepare your team for workplace conflict is by giving them the key skills they need to combat it themselves. Conflict resolution training is likely to pay dividends for your team and company as a whole since employees can use it for workplace conflicts as well as in other professional settings – customer or client care, for example.
Strategies to Resolve Workplace Conflict
Sometimes, however hard you try, conflict can’t be avoided. You may have implemented all your preventative strategies and still discover some kind of disagreement in your team. Don’t panic; it happens. Instead, try using some of these strategies to resolve the conflict before it spirals out of control.
1. Encourage Parties to Discuss the Issue
Giving your team the space and support to talk through any issues causing workplace conflict is one of the most effective strategies for resolving disputes. There’s a reason that diplomacy still takes place, so create some discussion in your team.
2. Listen Actively and Empathetically
Active listening isn’t just hearing what somebody’s saying; it’s paying attention to verbal and non-verbal communication and then providing appropriate feedback so the other person knows you’re listening. It’s a vital communication skill and excellent for resolving workplace conflict that can often arise when people don’t feel like they’re being heard.
3. Identify the Root Cause of the Conflict
Workplace conflicts rarely spring from nowhere, so an effective way of resolving them is digging down to the root of the matter. This is the only way that you’ll be able to really tackle many disputes, because even if you solve one argument, if you fail to get to the root issue, conflicts will crop up again.
4. Generate Potential Solutions and Choose the Best One
Many sources of professional workplace conflict come from competing ideas about the best course of action. This can lead to two or more parties becoming entrenched with their ideas. The only way out is to sit down with all involved, generate further solutions as a group, and then choose the best one. This way, everyone can input their ideas.
5. Follow Up on the Resolution and Monitor Progress
Finally, when there is conflict in the workplace, it’s important to remember it doesn’t end when the argument does. Even if a solution is found, following up regularly is essential to ensure the conflict doesn’t flare up again.
Remote Work and Workplace Conflict
As mentioned before, workplace conflict also occurs with remote teams, and while all of the strategies to prevent and resolve conflict above still apply, how you approach them might differ. This mainly comes down to the channels you use. When resolving or preventing conflict in person, you can gather people in a room; when part of a remote team, this simply isn’t possible. As such, you need to find digital equivalents to manage workplace conflict.
For example, when working through different ideas as part of your team collaboration, you could use an interactive digital whiteboard. This way, all your team members will be able to contribute effectively to conflict resolution. Similarly, to promote open communication among your team, you need to give them the channels that suit their workstyles. This could be traditional email, an IM-style chat, video calls, voice notes, or a combination of all of them. The key is to provide avenues for your team to talk.
As mentioned earlier, one of the significant points of contention for hybrid workforces is a lack of transparency. Technology can also be used to help solve this. Angel investor Guy Gamzu, for example, uses Spike’s read tracking and real-time response awareness to improve transparency in his communication: “With Spike, I can be ultra-responsive, and I can also easily check others’ responsiveness to me. With deadlines and launches, that transparency conveys a lot of information.” Approaches like this can help manage conflict before it ever materializes.
At the end of the day, communication can be a little more challenging for remote teams, and this, in turn, can lead to conflict. However, with the right tools and strategies, your remote teamwork will be stronger than ever, and disagreement will lead to growth rather than catastrophe.
Start Preventing and Resolving Workplace Conflict Today
Workplace conflict can be caused by many things, from a lack of communication to differences in personality to subtle shifts and changes in where people stand in an organization. It happens in every workplace, and the first step to avoiding or improving this conflict is identifying that it’s happening in the first place. Use your common sense, look for anything out of the ordinary, and above all: listen to your team! Chances are, they’ll tell you if something’s wrong.
Even though workplace conflict is common, it doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. You need to address the causes and symptoms as soon as they’re identified because left unchecked, they can cause real problems. First, try to prevent conflict from occurring through open communication, team building, clear roles, and conflict resolution training. If there are still disagreements (and there will be), then it’s time for resolution. Start by encouraging your team to talk and actively listen, try to identify the root cause, generate solutions and make sure to always follow up.
With these workplace conflict strategies, you’re sure to have your team running smoothly in no time, so give them a try today. Thank you for navigating through this series. We hope the lessons have been beneficial to you!
Check Out The Entire Team Leadership Series
- Rediscovering Healthy Team Leadership for 2024
- Leadership Styles: The Ultimate Guide for 2024
- Traits for Success: The Must-Have Skills for Effective Team Leaders
- How to Build and Maintain a High-performing Team
- Setting Team Goals
- The Art of Active Listening
- How to Build Trust and Rapport With Your Team
- How to Provide Feedback and Recognition to Your Team
- How to Manage Conflict Within a Team
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