What Is Workplace Conflict and How Can You Resolve It?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, workplace conflict is defined as “any workplace disagreement that disrupts the flow of work." Additionally, SHRM has mentioned that this type of conflict “is inevitable when employees of various backgrounds and different work styles are brought together for a shared business purpose.”

On the bright side, workplace conflict can be resolved when proper action is taken. Not only that, but workplace conflict can also be managed in ways that minimize the likelihood of further conflict transpiring in the future.

First, let’s examine the causes behind workplace conflict

An SHRM survey has shown that workplace conflict typically arises as the result of the following causes:

  • A lack of needs being met at work.
  • Employees who find co-workers to behave in irritating ways.
  • Differences in work styles, approaches and overall goals.
  • Personality differences that clash.
  • Poor communication or conversation styles between co-workers.
  • The perception that resource-related distribution is not fair.
  • Unclear roles or lack of purpose in the workplace.

These are only a few of the potential causes of workplace conflict. There are several other reasons that could bring workplace conflict to fruition.

What are the consequences of workplace conflict?

A study put forth by CPP Inc. in 2008 stated that U.S. employees allocate more than 2.8 hours per week, per person, toward the management of workplace conflict. In total, more than $359 billion is put toward the hours employees spend managing workplace conflict.

Furthermore, the study showed that approximately 85% of employees have come in contact with workplace conflict at some point in their careers. While some instances of workplace conflict are seemingly minor, other instances involve problems that have resulted in personal attacks, physical injuries, illnesses, absence from work and failure to either complete or advance certain projects.

It may seem hard to believe, but conflict is prevalent among employees who operate in remote work environments as well. You might be wondering how it’s possible to experience workplace conflict when you work from home, but research has shown that more than 80% of remote employees have experienced conflict as part of their jobs.

As mentioned, there are very steep costs imposed upon employers as a result of workplace conflict. Due to the expensive nature of workplace conflict, it is absolutely necessary for businesses to address, manage, resolve and prevent workplace conflict to the best of their ability.

Here are four conflict resolution techniques 

Understand that everyone views fairness differently based on their own biased perceptions of what equality means. When conflict arises, both parties are usually of the opinion that they are in the right and the opposing party is in the wrong.

This is due to the fact that neither party involved can view the situation objectively because their emotions are clouding their judgment. That’s why an unbiased mediator can help you. With their objective approach, mediators can ensure that fairness is the angle being taken in the process of resolving workplace conflict.

Go beneath the surface and focus on the root of the problem. When conflict is present, it means there are factors involved in the situation that the two parties do not see eye to eye on.

Beyond these factors, there might even be a few negative emotions in the mix, such as frustration, anger or even sadness. When you seek to identify as well as address all of the factors that are at play, you can seek the heart of the deeper issues and then eliminate them so that employees are not in constant conflict with each other.

Call upon the HR division of your company when appropriate. In certain cases, conflict can be resolved between the employees themselves if not by their managers or supervisors.

However, in the majority of workplace conflict cases, HR departments have to step in and help facilitate the resolution. For instance, calling in HR is often necessary when the conflict becomes personal, employees feel disrespected, co-workers threaten to quit because of the unresolved issues and the conflict puts morale in harm’s way.

Know when it is time to rely on the support of professionals and outside help. In many cases, the issue behind workplace conflict can be resolved internally. However, there are times when it is necessary to enlist the help of external resources and outside assistance, which can be in the form of attorneys, mediators or arbitrators, among others.

For instance, if the root cause of workplace conflict involves legal matters or topics pertaining to discrimination, then external help from experienced professionals is key. Other examples include circumstances in which HR cannot handle the problem, the workplace has become toxic or a certain cause of conflict continues to take place.

Workplace conflict is undoubtedly a widespread and complex issue that involves far more factors than those we have listed in this article. The goal is to take this information and tailor it to your company’s workplace, culture and operations.

If you find yourself experiencing ongoing problems that you are not sure how to address or solve, it is wise to turn to experienced workplace consultants and psychologists who may be able to help you put an end to workplace conflict.

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