An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Hoping for no conflict in the workplace is not realistic. Conflict is a normal and an important part of our lives as it may promote learning and growth. It may generate insights and lead to changes. However, how we deal with it will dictate success or failure. When faced with conflict among co-workers or employees, a leader must acknowledge, accept and address it in a timely manner or it becomes harder to deal with it later on.

Negative conflict in the workplace creates loss of productivity, suppresses creativity, creates barriers to cooperation and collaboration, among other negative results. If avoided or ignored, conflict may grow into resentment, fear, discontentment and sense of rejection, and you may see your good employee walking out the door towards a new company.

So, what creates conflict in the workplace? Different values, difference in personalities, opposing positions, competition, power struggles, jealousy, ego, performance, compensation, the list can go on and on and on… But the main causes of conflict in the workplace are communication and emotions.

Without communication there is no understanding and no moving forward. Poor communication, or lack thereof, lack of information or misinformation can result in a difference in communication styles or a failure to communicate. We are not mind readers. So clear, concise, accurate and timely communication of information will prevent conflicts.

Another problem in the workplace that will lead to conflict happens when people let their emotions drive their decisions. Emotions are part of who we are, we can’t just turn them on or off at will. It would be helpful at times, but we just can’t. So we must understand and learn how to deal with them. Our emotions are created and defined but our own perceptions, and perceptions are very subjective: what is important to one may not have any importance at all to another. See conflict arising?

The leader must be very attentive and perceptive when conflict is arising and must deal with it. Mike Myatt, a brilliant contributor at Forbes, lists 5 keys for dealing with conflict in the workplace when it arises.

  1. Define Acceptable Behavior: Within the team, define what constitutes acceptable behavior and what should not be tolerated. Encourage collaboration, team work, leadership and talent management. Clearly defining job descriptions so that people know what to do and who to report to, will also avoid  conflict.
  2. Hit Conflict Head-on: In reality it’s not that easy. However, when conflict arises do not ignore it and deal with it quickly.  Time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions (and the emotions behind them) will help avoid conflict.
  3. Understanding other’s position: It is absolutely essential to understand your employees’ position and what has motivated their behavior. Be proactive, ask questions and let them speak (this is the time to allow them to let off steam). By showing that your intention is to help them achieve their goals,  you create trust and resolve the conflict.
  4. The Importance Factor: If the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. Understand the importance of the issue to each party and proactively discuss it until you find a resolve.
  5. View Conflict as Opportunity: In every conflict lies the potential for a teaching and learning opportunity. Disagreements create growth and development, it may lead to team building and leadership development purposes. “Divergent positions addressed properly can stimulate innovation and learning in ways like minds can’t even imagine.”

The best way to avoid conflict from arising in the workplace is prevention. Setting ground rules and defining acceptable behavior early on helps. Empathy, compassion, being an active listener, respect, understanding, all help create rapport and trust with the team, as they know you will be fair and on point to handle anything when needed. But if all fails and a conflict arises, deal with it.

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