Complete Guide To Workplace Conflict Resolution: What Is It? Why Is It Important? How Do I Do It?

by Ben Richardson
29th April 2021    6 Minutes

Work can be stressful. 

Deadlines and pressure to hit targets can lead to conflict as colleagues vie for position and compete with each other. Stress and tiredness only make things worse. 

Learning to get along with other people, whether they are colleagues, suppliers or customers, is a vital career skill. 

It is a vital step to having real impact and influence at work.

It’s also critical for our well-being as we spend most of our waking hours at work.

 

What Is Conflict Resolution? 

Conflict resolution is the process of bringing two or more parties who are in dispute to a peaceful, lasting solution. 

To resolve conflicts, conversations between the two parties or more will need to occur.

Both will need to compromise and practise active listening to reach a win win solution.

Why Is Conflict Management Important?

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. 

We all have different personalities, points of view and experience. Combining these different ways of thinking is why teams can be so much more effective than just one individual. 

The opposite side of that is that sometimes we disagree strongly with our work colleagues’ views. 

Conflict management works to manage that conflict before it becomes a disruptive problem within the workplace.

It ensures that teams with divergent points of view do not fall apart because of those differences. It allows them to continue working together productively. 

 

The Difference Between Conflict and Disagreement

Conflicts and disagreements are two different things. 

A conflict is much more severe than a disagreement.

Conflicts are often a result of multiples issues and emotions, which become broader as time passes. 

They often grow slowly over time, going unnoticed, until they suddenly boil over and becoming highly problematic. 

Growing slowly over time, they can become quite deep-rooted and require a fair amount of time and effort to defuse. 

Disagreements are short-term disputes and usually focused on a specific issue.

A dispute is typically a clash between needs and wants, which can be quickly resolved through compromise and also getting both parties to take some time to listen carefully to and understand each other’s position.

 

Common Causes of Conflict In the Workplace

 

The major causes of workplace conflicts are:

  • Team Dynamics

The status quo in a team can be upset in lots of ways. 

Some people can respond to this type of challenge in counterproductive ways leading to disputes with other team members. 

Typical examples of when a team dynamic will change are when someone new joins a team or a dispute between team members. 

  • Unclear Roles & Responsibilities

If roles and responsibilities are unclear within a team, conflict often results. Tasks not clearly allocated to a team member often go unfinished. 

Team members believing that others should be completing an unallocated task (often wrongly!) can then rapidly lead to a dispute. 

  • Values

We all have beliefs about how others should behave. 

Given that we all have different views, and expectations these beliefs can be quite different and sometimes contradictory, leading to clashes.

  • Poor Work Habits

If a team member has poor work habits, this can quickly lead to dispute. 

If someone consistently misses deadlines or is late to work, other team members may hold this against them. 

As time goes on, this frustration will often build up. Often this frustration then crystallises around one relatively minor issue. Much to everyone’s confusion, a small issue will seem to have become a substantial problem. 

In reality, the issue at hand isn’t the cause of the conflict. It is the slow accumulation of frustration over the previous weeks and months. 

 

5 Steps Of Conflict Resolution

 

There are five key steps to resolving a workplace conflict permanently. 

1. Find out the cause of the conflict

Conflicts start somewhere. The first step is to find out what exactly caused them.

Conflict can go unnoticed for months before it becomes apparent. 

As a consequence, both parties will need to dig deep and be honest about what caused the conflict if they want to get to the bottom of it.

2. Establish a common goal for both parties

Next, it is essential to establish, for both parties, the common goal of dealing with the conflict for once and for all. 

3. Understand the barriers to meeting the common goals 

Having agreed to a common goal, both parties need to work through the obstacles to meeting that goal. 

For example, if anger caused by hurt feelings is preventing one party from cooperating, an apology may be required to move forward.

4. Discuss possible solutions

The next step is looking for possible solutions. 

Both will need to accept that they will need to compromise to some degree, and each will need to come up with practical ways to avoid having the same issue again in the future. 

5. Acknowledge and take ownership of the solutions

This step is the best part of conflict resolution. 

No one enjoys disputes, and most people find them very stressful. Resolving one is often a moment of relief for both parties. 

 

Finding and agreeing on a strategy that both parties are willing to commit to, to move forward is the final step. It can require several meetings to reach a clear, agreed-upon solution. 

Conclusion

Conflict is bound to happen in any workplace, especially when the pressure to meet deadlines and targets increases stress.

Conflict management ensures that conflict is dealt with before it stops employees from being productive at work. 

 

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