Conflict in the workplace can be a healthy driving force if it is managed and handled correctly, but since there are so many factors that influence whether this is in fact even possible; it can also be extremely destructive.
All kinds of issues can arise in the workplace and all too often they are accepted, pushed away or ignored. Unfortunately though, not dealing with them typically results in a widespread impact that can be detrimental to a company’s or team’s performance.
When does conflict stop being healthy?
It is completely natural to have a team simmering with opposing views when you have a group of individuals who are talented and passionate. Unfortunately though by nature conflict is rarely contained to a purely professional level. It can be born out of office politics, personality clashes and professional grudges that spill into personal ones. Individual conflict also rarely only affects the individuals, as more often than not team morale and motivational levels are impacted. Working in an environment that is riddled with negativity is tough.
The impact of workplace conflict
Whether you are directly involved in a conflicting situation or are part of a team that is riddled with conflict; it can be a difficult environment to work in. For a start, rather than just focusing on doing your job, conflict often makes you second guess your actions or directly impact decision making. It’s not a nice way to have to work and worse still, can significantly hamper motivational and productivity levels.
It is important to consider how relationships breaking down between colleagues impact and manifest the team or organisation. Commonly it can cause high staff turnover, decreased productivity due to lack of motivation, poor attendance and health issues due to stress. Worse still, it can be significantly damaging to a company’s or team’s reputation.
What sort of things cause conflict?
There are many things that can cause conflict in the workplace, regardless of the cause it should be recognised and managed accordingly. Common causes include bullying, residual effects of change, co-worker disputes, poorly constructed teams, personality clashes, different interpretation of contractual agreements and structural changes such as redundancies.
Unfortunately conflict in the workplace is hard to avoid. Certain steps can be taken to minimise their chances, but ultimately the key to resolving conflict is to acknowledge and address it. Here are some tips on how to just that:
1. Don’t ignore conflict
Since conflict can rarely be avoided it is better to encourage opposing views to be aired so that the people involved can feel like their voices have been heard. This can lead to a much better chance of resolution.
2. Speak up
Bullying and harassment in the workplace is serious and even if it is someone more senior to you who is the cause, there will always be someone more senior or appropriate who you can go to for help. Either way, you should not endure it and hope that it goes away, since it rarely does and you want to put yourself in a position where it does not happen again.
3. Consider what is causing the conflict
Individuals can often lose sight of what the conflict was initially about and get wrapped up in it spiralling out of control. Whether you are directly involved or not, it is a good idea to remind people of the root issues so that they can stay focused.
4. Stay professional
Conflict in the workplace has a nasty tendency of getting personal. So whether you are caught in the midst of it or are simply an affected bystander, do your best to keep conversations and the airing of opinions professional and not personal.
When it comes to conflict, prevention is certainly better than cure. The chances conflict occurring can be minimised by ensuring that teams are formed carefully and that changes are carefully and considerately managed.
Nick Williams works for Acuity Training, who provide hands-on professional training from their two UK offices. Nick works as an assistant on the negotiation skills training course as well as the majority of technical/development courses.