Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Conflict is a natural part of the human experience, and it can happen anywhere at any time for a wide number of reasons. In the workplace, conflict can lead to many secondary problems, such as disorganization, dissatisfied customers, and lost productivity. 

So, it’s vital for businesses to have a comprehensive and effective conflict resolution strategy on hand when these problems arise. With that in mind, read on for the nine necessary steps to resolve conflicts between personnel. 

Why is Conflict Resolution Vital for Your Organization?

Conflict resolution management is essential for businesses of all shapes and sizes for several reasons.

  • First, it allows you to mitigate potential problems before they spiral out of control. Unresolved conflicts can lead to a disharmonious workplace, low morale, and inefficient operations.
  • Second, a comprehensive conflict resolution strategy can protect the company from potential lawsuits or legal problems that may arise. While some conflicts may still require legal mediation, having a strategy in place can minimize the most severe claims.
  • Finally, conflict resolution creates a happier and more motivated workforce. When people see that management is committed to solving problems as soon as they arise, they’re more likely to feel appreciated and recognized.

Now, here are the steps necessary to ensure a smooth and efficient conflict resolution strategy.

Step One: Recognize the Problem

One primary issue with conflict resolution is that many people don’t like confrontation, so they tend to avoid admitting there is a problem in the first place. Unfortunately, delayed action only makes the situation worse, and it could eventually lead to firings or resignations. 

The most important first step is to admit that there is a problem and decide to take action. This may seem like a small step, but it’s necessary to get the ball rolling. 

Step Two: Identify the Problem

Another obstacle that workplaces can encounter when handling conflict resolution is that these matters are often very subjective. Both sides of the conflict can have unique reasons for engaging in it, and those reasons can stem from wildly different circumstances. In some cases, the conflict could be resolved by clarifying the issue and having a frank discussion. 

In other instances, the conflict may run much deeper than a simple misunderstanding. So, it’s crucial to hear from both sides and identify the root cause. The inciting incident may just be the tip of the iceberg. 

Step Three: Find a Private and Objective Location for a Discussion

Although you can’t control when and where a conflict may arise, you can control where you resolve it. It’s best to handle these situations in a private location so that other workers are not privy to potentially sensitive information. Privacy is also essential because it allows the involved parties to feel more open about sharing their point of view and why they were engaged in the conflict.

If necessary, you may also want everyone to sign a non-disclosure agreement. This way, gossip doesn’t spread around the workplace and undermine your conflict resolution strategy. However, in most cases, a verbal agreement should suffice unless there are legal issues involved in the situation.

It’s also important to find an objective location to meet with those involved in the conflict. For example, if one person has an office, holding the meeting there could subtly imply that that person is more important and is more likely to get what they want out of the resolution.

Step Four: Talk With Everyone Involved

Step two involves talking with each party individually. This step is bringing everyone together with a mediator or arbitrator to discuss the conflict face-to-face. 

During this step, it’s essential that the mediator is impartial and objective. If this person is already taking one side, it’s much harder to resolve the conflict fairly and amicably. 

Also, keep in mind that this step may take a few sessions to get everyone to talk openly. While a speedy resolution is ideal, what’s most important is that both parties feel like it’s resolved and that they are capable of moving forward. Otherwise, the problem will persist and likely worsen over time. 

Step Five: Workshop Solutions

One important element of conflict resolution in the workplace is that co-workers don’t necessarily have to be friends or even close with each other. What matters is whether the affected parties can continue to work amicably and professionally. 

So, when workshopping solutions, it’s critical to remember this point. The objective is an efficient and positive work environment, not to reconcile differences so co-workers can become friends. 

Step Six: Identify a Common Goal

Communication is a fundamental part of running a well-functioning workplace, as it can give you valuable insight into the mindset of your employees. When it comes to conflict resolution, understanding the goals of each party can make it easier to find a solution. However, in some cases, goals may also conflict, meaning you have to get creative with a compromise.

For example, perhaps both workers just want to be able to do their job without encountering the other person. If that’s impossible, based on the circumstances of the workplace, you have to figure out how to mitigate their interactions so future conflicts can be avoided. Alternatively, it might be possible to schedule workers separately from each other to minimize their proximity.

Step Seven: Commit to a Plan of Action

Once you’ve identified a common goal and both parties agree to it, you should develop a comprehensive plan of action. It’s also good to have this plan in writing so that both parties can sign off on it. Writing the plan down also ensures that there is no ambiguity or confusion about what’s expected from everyone involved.

Overall, it’s critical that each person is on the same page when resolving conflict, as misunderstandings or assumptions could lead to future incidents. Having the plan in writing allows each person to ask questions and suggest revisions to remove any potential conflicts.

Once the plan is set, no one should be able to alter it without calling an additional meeting to discuss any unforeseen issues. If one party is allowed to alter the deal without the other, that undermines the entire process.

Step Eight: Monitor the Situation

It’s often rare that a conflict resolves completely and doesn’t require a follow-up. Checking in with both parties ensures that your solution is working out, or it allows you an opportunity to adjust the situation and come to a better agreement. 

Typically, checking in simply means talking with each party and asking them if they’re satisfied with the arrangement. If they aren’t, you can ask what changes may alleviate the problem. If one side recommends changes, don’t forget to notify the other party, so they’re aware of the revised plan. Even if the revisions don’t necessarily affect the other person, transparency is essential for long-term success.

For example, if one party makes changes without notifying the other, conflict could arise if the other party discovers what happened later on. That person may not have realized they could request revisions, so they feel left out of the conversation, making them less trusting of the entire process.

In other cases, you may have to bring everyone together for a follow-up meeting. Ideally, this can occur before any future conflicts may arise. If you notice tensions rising, it’s imperative to call a meeting as soon as possible to quash any problems immediately instead of letting them fester and worsen.

Step Nine: Adjust the Action Plan if Necessary

Ideally, your original action plan will be sufficient to resolve the conflict and lead to a happier and more productive workplace. However, if there are still problems between parties, you may have to revisit the action plan and make changes. In this case, it’s best to identify the source of the problem to understand why the initial plan isn’t working. For example, maybe one person agreed because they felt coerced, not because they wanted the same outcome. In that case, it’s imperative to illustrate that their input is just as valuable, so they’re more likely to contribute legitimate solutions.

Another point to remember is that it can be hard for those involved in the conflict to come up with solutions. Because they’re too close to the problem, it’s challenging for them to stay objective or to look at the situation from an impartial perspective. In this case, having an objective third party develop a compromise might be the best solution.

Finally, conflict resolution might not be a “best-case scenario” for each party involved. Sometimes, each person may have to make sacrifices or accept less-than-ideal situations to create a productive workplace. Basically, you need to remember that while the goal is to make everyone satisfied, that’s not always possible.

Overall, it’s critical to remember that conflict resolution is an ongoing process, not a quick fix. People are complicated creatures, so it’s unreasonable to expect them to overcome their conflicts immediately. If you’re in need of comprehensive conflict resolution training in your workplace, contact us today!

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About the Author: Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack, Ph.D. is the founder of Defuse De-Escalation Training, a sister company of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems, the largest workplace conflict resolution training and consulting firm in North America. He actively participates in de-escalation training and consulting initiatives for a variety of industries, from Fortune 500 companies to well-known non-profits. Besides his Ph.D. in Psychology from Grand Canyon University, Jeremy holds a Master’s Degree in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peacebuilding (NCRP) from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He is also a member of several organizations focused on conflict resolution and peacebuilding, such as the Peaceful Leadership Institute, the Association for Conflict Resolution, and the Division 48 (Division of Peace Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. Jeremy also holds several certifications in the field of training and coaching: he is a Certified Organizational Development Coach (CODC™), a Certified Clinical Trauma Specialist-Individual (CCTS-I™), and an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) under the International Coaching Federation.

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