Navigating Conflict in the Workplace

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The truth is, conflict is a natural, and unavoidable, part of the workplace environment. So much so that you likely will experience some level of conflict many times a week if you find yourself in constant contact with people. According to the report “Workplace conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive,” 385 million working days are lost each year due to workplace conflict. How you deal with conflict has a significant impact on your opportunities, career and overall happiness. It also is a major factor to an organization’s success or its failure.

Conflicts come in all sizes. A conflict could be relatively minor between two people or it can have major impact across teams or organizations. Some conflicts are viewed as easy and simple to resolve while others can be exceptionally difficult to resolve with a considerable amount of complexity and ill will at stake. Conflicts can result in discomfort, anxiety, hurt feelings, disappointment, emotional distance, stress, distrust, arguments, dislike, and even physical confrontation.

Because two people do not agree on an issue or see eye-to-eye does not necessarily mean either is wrong. In fact, in most cases they may actually be right from their reference point. We all see the world from our own perspective; therefore, it’s common for that perspective to be incorrect or mistaken based on the few data points that we may have of a situation as well as our biases accumulated over a lifetime.

When conflict does occur, it needs to be resolved so that we can achieve understanding, harmony and, preferably, agreement. This means that not only is there a great need for an effective conflict management process in your workplace, it’s imperative that all members of the organization receive some amount of training in resolving conflicts. After all, we don’t have absolute control over the events or personalities that lead up to conflict but we do have control how we choose to respond to the conflict.

Effective conflict management helps to achieve many important outcomes within the workplace such as:

  • Resolving issues
  • Improving communications
  • Strengthening relationships
  • Encouraging a productive work environment.
  • Building trust
  • Promoting respect for coworkers, and
  • Supporting safety and security

Ineffective conflict management and unresolved work issues can obviously bring a team or organization to its knees as problems fester, productivity and creativity suffers, and order and support is replaced by chaos, instability and failing relationships. A total breakdown in morale can result causing barriers to collaboration and leading to hopelessness, aggression, withdrawal and even employee turnover. But it’s not just conflict not being addressed that causes problems; it’s also conflict being poorly addressed. Conflict management must include treating people and issues fairly where people feel like they are receiving the support they need.

Learning effective steps and strategies to manage workplace conflict is critical to any leader and organization. As you begin to recognize the opportunities presented with conflict, you can work towards building stronger relationships, teams, and organizations. In order to change the culture of an organization, effective training must be provided regularly and referenced on a regular basis. Training and available resources foster an environment with trust, security, and positive accountability practices.

By Neal Whitten, PMP
The Neal Whitten Group, Inc.

Interested in more about this topic? Check out Neal’s latest online course, 7 Steps to Successful Conflict Management, worth 3.5 Leadership PDUs. You can also listen to our Manage This Podcast episode 91, Caught in the Crossfire – Conflict Management for the PM, and earn free 1 PDU.