When your employees come into conflict, what is really going on? Are they debating the best way to proceed with a project, in a way that could lead to a more productive outcome? Or is one worker being needlessly disrespectful and counterproductive?
Teaching management personnel — and employees in general — how to recognize different types of workplace conflict is important for the smooth functioning of the business as a whole. While some disagreements can be reframed as part of the collaboration process, others must be dealt with quickly for the sake of team and individual morale.
Types of Conflict in the Workplace: Good vs. Bad
While the word “conflict” carries negative connotations, there is such a thing as healthy conflict. A work disagreement that does not become personal, and focuses solely on a business issue, can be a useful engine for developing new ideas and finding a better strategy.
If no worker ever stands up for their opinions and the loudest voice in the room always wins out with no challenge or organizational conflict, the company is on a risky path. Employees may feel they are not being heard or respected, and the overall strategy may lack refinement.
Embracing good conflict means people are free to voice their thoughts in a respectful and potentially useful way. But how does the business keep conflict to this level?
The Balance offered some suggestions for keeping conflict productive and vital, rather than cruel and damaging. For instance, managers must be highly aware of what is going on among their team members. If interpersonal conflict is devolving into personal negativity and cruelty, it’s time to cut the situation off with a conflict resolution meeting.
Work conflict also becomes bad when employees break into factions. Groups who feel they are better off forming closed-off groups, meeting behind closed doors and potentially undermining their coworkers are engaging in this nonproductive form of organizational conflict.
In general, when people are forming educated opinions and bringing them to the table respectfully, conflict can be productive. When it fails to reach that standard and the business suffers for it, it’s time for resolution.
Strategies to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace
When it’s time to bring disagreeing parties to the table and resolve a workplace conflict, how can managers make sure the process works? Writing for Harvard Business Review, Ginka Toegel and Jean-Louis Barsoux recommended five conversation-starters leaders can put to their team members to get ahead of potential dissent and get everyone aligned.
These five topics, each leading to 20-30 minutes of discussion, are:
- Look: Consider the differences in how colleagues present themselves
- Act: Understand how people can misjudge behaviors
- Speak: Discuss the impact of divergent communication styles
- Think: Learn how various team members think about what they’re doing
- Feel: Discover how each member of the group conveys passion and emotion
Giving workers a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives with these or similar conflict management exercises can help them keep their conflicts productive rather than damaging.
Workplace Conflict Resolution Training
Conflict can’t always be avoided by preemptive sessions and understanding, and it can sometimes be unclear when and how to intervene in a developing disagreement. Fortunately, there are many training courses on the subject of conflict resolution and conflict management strategy creation, each suited for a particular type of business and team.
These conflict resolution training modules can focus on scenarios such as small vs. large group disagreements, staying calm in personality clashes and finding solutions. They can also target specific workplaces such as industrial facilities. By matching your leadership personnel’s needs with a conflict management training course, you can equip your people to foster productive conflict, stop counterproductive incidents and get back to producing exemplary work.