Your average American employee will spend between 39.7 and 42.8 hours at work this week– some of them will work even more! On average, we are spending over half as much time with our coworkers as we do with our families every month.
With all of this ‘quality time’– is it any surprise that workplace conflicts arise when the pressures of work increase?
Conflicts in the office can begin from any number of sources. Disagreements about job responsibilities, pay, work style compatibility, and just basic personality differences can be the cause for much discord among employees. Workplace relationships need attention, and when conflict arises, even intervention when they become a barrier to a healthy office environment Letting workplace conflict fester is unwise, as this can turn the entire environment toxic and then you have a much bigger problem that can affect productivity, turnover, and ultimately revenue.
Keeping the workplace healthy requires building a good morale and a sense of teamwork Focus on building a strong team by recognizing effort and being an active manager to keep workplace conflicts from becoming feuds.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s human nature to encounter conflict when there are multiple people in a common area for an extended period. Power struggles, differing ideals, and the challenges with communication all present the extraordinary potential for discord.
Trying to manage workplace conflict is a highly nuanced practice– there is no one right way to approach it. Using complex conflict resolution strategies only serves to shut down employees who are already frustrated while overly simplistic strategies fail to make them feel confident going forward.
A great way to strike a balance is to work from a mindset of ‘positive neutrality.’ It’s a concept most often discussed regarding conflict when a mediator tries to peace make without taking sides. This may feel difficult, even impossible at times when confronted with a group of frustrated employees– but it can be game-changing.
Workplace conflict resolution is not unlike relationship counseling– you want to achieve the best possible outcome in a mutually respectful way. This means that you must acknowledge positive attributes and troubleshoot the rougher spots. The dialogue must always remain feeling safe and open.
A good way to practice this in workplace conflict resolution is to employ the same concepts in Don Miguel Ruiz’ The Four Agreements:
Be impeccable with your word
Don’t take anything personally
Don’t make assumptions
Always do your best
Let’s take a look at an example: Two employees have been arguing about responsibilities at work. There has been a conflict resolution meeting planned with their manager.
Manager: ‘I appreciate you meeting with me today. Before we get started, I think it’s important that we set some ground rules for our conversation, so it’s productive. What will help you feel heard and respected?’
Employee A: ‘I can’t stand being interrupted, can that be a rule?’
Employee B: ‘I don’t want to spend time pointing fingers. It doesn’t help anything.’
Manager: ‘Those are both great ground rules. I’d also like to make an effort to remain neutral with thoughts or feelings and lean towards positive intentions.’
Employee A: ‘I don’t feel positive or neutral, thought. I feel that he doesn’t listen to me or acknowledge anything I do here.’
Employee B: ‘This is ridiculous. I don’t know why you feel that way.’
Manager: ‘It’s important to approach this without taking things personally or making assumptions. Keeping it on a neutral ground will help us find a middle ground, where everyone can do their best work.’
Employees: (full of skepticism) ‘Okay. We’ll try.’
Merging the positive neutrality culture with the four agreements to create a culture of respect in conflict resolution meetings– but really, organizations should utilize this culture in the workplace as an overall strategy and approach. It should be used in meetings, when training employees, and in decision making processes from the top down. This must be a cultural shift that begins with leadership demonstrating openness, optimism, and mutual accountability.
In workplace conflict resolution, the goal must not be to attain perfect harmony but to improve team communication and maintain respect.