When conflict arises in the workplace, either between yourself and a colleague or between teams, it can quickly escalate and have a knock-on effect on other’s moods, creating an unpleasant atmosphere for everyone.
Follow these tips on managing conflict at work, to relieve tension and help everyone get back on an even keel.
Let people be heard
It’s frustrating when you feel that no one is listening or will give you proper airtime. When this happens, it can escalate a small issue into a much bigger one. If conflict is brewing let people be heard in a managed way – hold an informal meeting, host a chat room, allowing concerns to be raised through formal and informal routes. Don’t shut down debate – it will only seep through your fingers.
Pinpoint what’s going on
People often label feelings generically when conflict arises. For example, I’m angry, annoyed, sad, or unhappy. Get underneath the label and pinpoint the real emotion – “I felt let down when you didn’t suggest me for that promotion”. “I was embarrassed when you criticized me in front of my peers”. “I was anxious and nervous when you put me on the spot and asked me to present to senior management”. Getting behind the label is the first step in better knowing how to diffuse conflict.
Recognize your unconscious bias
We all carry unconscious biases. They are informed by the belief of our parents, our upbringing, childhood and adult experiences and our own moral code and values. You may not think, for example, that you are biased toward someone because of their gender or religious beliefs, however, unconsciously there could be something there that colours your thinking. You may unconsciously favour people with character traits like your own. Accepting that we all carry biases, helps us to understand why conflict occurs.
Develop your Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
To resolve conflict at work it’s important to develop your EQ muscle. Your emotional intelligence says something about your judgement about people, and the social situations that exist around people and relationships. People who are emotionally intelligent:
- Are self-aware – they not only know themselves what motivates, engages, or demotivates, they fundamentally understand the impact of their emotions on others
- Can regulate emotions – those with high EQ can regulate their emotions in situations of conflict or high stress. This means being able to temper emotional responses, remain calm or express yourself calmly in appropriate moments
- Can read a room – people who have a strong EQ can often read a room quickly, spot underlying political agendas, power, or relationship issues. This ability helps to diffuse conflict before it arises
- Is relational – people with high EQ can persuade others, win people over, or negotiate effectively. Often leading to a win:win scenario.
Apply the right solutions
When conflict arises it’s important to have sound judgement about what’s going on. Is the issue a case of bullying or harassment? Has it been caused by a performance issue? Is someone playing up for attention or because they want to deflect from a different issue? Is it a case of a clash of personalities? These are real-world scenarios. Know which solutions, processes and tools are right for the situation:
- Tension between team members? Step in as a manager and mediate early on
- Conflict between you as a manager and a member of your team? Ask a neutral third party to hear both sides of the argument
- Concerned for someone’s wellbeing? Encourage them to speak to their line manager, a Welfare Officer, Speak Up Guardian, close colleague or external counsellor
- Genuine performance management issue? Set clear objectives and expectations and manage accordingly, following any formal processes that are required
- If capability is an issue, help with training and development.
Often when conflict occurs at work it’s off the back of something else. Tune in to what’s going on. Are a team at risk of redundancy? Is an organisation restructure forthcoming? Will people be expected to work differently or for longer hours? Is someone having problems at home that are spilling into the workplace?
People generally come to work to do the right thing and be rewarded as a result. When conflict arises it’s best to check what else is going on for the person/people and take a “Be Kind” approach. After all, it’s what you’d want if it were you!
If you are not getting on with someone at work and need further support in how best to handle this, check out our career journal, ‘Not getting on with someone at work’.