Are tempers flaring in your workplace? Have you witnessed some heated conversations? Have any team members sought your help resolving conflict?
What about you? Do you feel exhausted, short-tempered? Does one of your peers push all the wrong buttons? Irritate you every time you have to work together?
Whenever there are relationships, there is bound to be conflict. Whether it’s with coworkers, family or friends, conflict is a catalyst for negative feelings ranging from frustration and anger to anxiety and sadness.
The first step to resolving conflict is to understand why it happens.
Conflict can be exacerbated by stress and a variety of other factors, including:
- Personality styles: We all have different personality styles, which influence everything from how we approach situations to how we prioritize things in our lives to how we interact with other people. Add in power struggles, cultural differences and varied belief or value systems, and it’s easy to see how not seeing things the same way leads to tension and conflict.
- Communication issues: How often does a misunderstanding end up causing discord or even a big fight? Depending on personality styles, some folks have no problem facing issues head on, while others are conflict avoidant. Then there are folks who like consensus and will do everything to keep the peace — and those who want time to figure out what their position is. If we aren’t resolving conflict, it can fester and become an even bigger problem.
- Poor leadership: Without strong leaders, conflict can fill the void created when team members don’t feel valued, motivated or directed toward a common goal. Issues can also arise when leaders don’t actively work to build relationships, or when they forgive or overlook poor behaviour. How many of us have witnessed high performers who don’t play nice with others?
There are ways as leaders that we can actively work toward resolving conflict. This includes:
- Taking a moment to read the room. Life can get so busy that we’re distracted and don’t take time to notice what’s going on around us. With many teams working from home some of the time or perhaps most of the time, is there more tension or less? Do you sense any subtext during team conversations? Is it harder to get an impression of that via Microsoft Teams and Zoom calls?
- Not assuming everything is fine if no one is complaining. Make an effort to check in. Start with yourself. Do you notice any areas of conflict or frustration? Then check in with your team members, friends and family members. What relationships need some work?
- Never ignoring conflicts in the hope they just resolve. Have you ever thought to yourself, “maybe this will clear itself up?” Yah, me too. But, more often than not, conflicts will escalate when we avoid difficult conversations (we now try to turn difficult conversations into essential conversations).
- Learning how to productively manage conflict. At Padraig, we use the Everything DiSC assessment tools to help leaders and teams learn how to build better relationships, improve communication and solve problems. There are simple shifts that help with resolving conflict and we now offer an online, live course devoted to improving conflict.
- Creating a culture where staff feel able to raise their concerns. Your team members are more likely to seek your advice if you’re not only approachable, but they see that you take their worries seriously. When you build strong work relationships and encourage team members to speak up, folks will trust you to manage disputes fairly and effectively.
- Promoting and valuing differences. Thank people for offering differing opinions, beliefs and insights. Consider what they’re sharing and see where you can use this information to improve how things get managed in the workplace. We know that businesses that are inclusive and don’t tolerate harassment or other discriminatory behaviours flourish. If there are team members who don’t feel safe and supported to share their ideas or concerns, there will most likely be interpersonal conflicts and unhealthy team dynamics.
- Listening to understand. What kind of listener are you? Are you listening with the intent to respond? Listening, really listening, is an important foundation for effective communication and can help you figure out what’s really going on. Have you made assumptions about that frustrating person that are wrong? Have they made assumptions about you?
- Staying calm and in control. Take a deep breath, mentally remove yourself from the situation and don’t argue back or become aggressive. It takes practice, but being mindful of taking a non-judgemental stance is extremely helpful. Remember, as a manager or leader you’re setting an example for the rest of your team.
- Ensuring you see the person and not the problem. It’s easy to focus on the problem or the issue, but what’s happening for the person or people involved? Sometimes people have other things going on that affect their performance. Are there stressors you don’t know about? Do they have very challenging personal circumstances? Has Covid-19 affected things? Sometimes showing compassion or empathy helps us determine solutions or supports that help to ease conflict.
- Seeking to understand the whole issue. When you become aware of a conflict, there is often more going on than what you see on the surface. Is it possible you’re not seeing the whole picture? Remember there may be more than one way forward or solution. Ensure that those who are involved in the dispute are also involved in creating the solution.
We can’t eliminate interpersonal conflict from relationships and when it crops up, wishing it away never works.Learning how to manage and address conflict is what leads to better decisions and not just a stronger team, but a stronger and more competitive organization.
If you’d like to learn how to fix problems and build a stronger team, our live online Productive Conflict Course is designed to help you learn how to deal with it. This isn’t a conflict resolution course, but rather a way to become more aware of conflict behaviours (yours and other people’s) and how to curb them. Learning how to make conflict more productive improves relationships and workplace results.
Where is conflict happening and it’s being overlooked? What would be better for you, your team and your organization if conflict was better managed? What steps will you take to get there?