What Should You Do to Manage Conflict in the Workplace?

The stats are out there on conflict in the workplace. Here are just a few:

America has a civility problem. 63% of Americans believe that we have a major civility problem and 71% believe it is getting worse. Civility in America - Weber Shandwick 2013

Research shows that 60-80% of all difficulties in organizations stem from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in individual employee’s skill or motivation. Daniel Dana, Managing Differences: How to Build Better Relationships at Work and Home (2005, 4th ed.); Barbara J. Kreisman, Insights into Employee Motivation, Commitment and Retention (2002).

The typical manager spends 25-40% of his or her time dealing with workplace conflicts. That’s one to two days of every work week. Washington Business Journal, May 2005.

More than 50% of employers report having been sued by an employee. Society for Human Resource Management survey, cited in USA Today (Workers win more lawsuits, awards, March 27, 2001).

Fortune 500 Senior Executives spend 20% of their time in litigation activities. Mediate.com.

Organizations adopting conflict resolution processes, like mediation, report 50-80% reductions in litigation costs. Thomas Stipanovvich, ADR and the “Vanishing Trial”: The Growth and Impact of Alternative Dispute Resolution (2004).

32% of employees are engaged at work and 51% were not engaged at work. Gallup.com 2015

So what should you do?

Control your emotions. De-escalate yourself. If you find yourself starting to become angry or irritated, realize this is happening and don’t let yourself go there. You only have 6 to 10 seconds to realize this, catch yourself and help yourself remain calm.

Once you have forced yourself to remain calm help others to de-escalate. Don’t fuel the fire. If others are not in full control and are venting beyond control, you may need to help them focus on the issues and the facts in a more rational way. Help the other party by asking questions that explore their interests.

  • What would you like to have happen?
  • What do you hope to accomplish?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • What would need to happen for you to feel satisfied?

Stay focused on the issue and continue to explore interests.

Consider partnering with others that are oriented towards resolution and not towards taking sides. This may be a peer, an employee, a supervisor, or another stakeholder. You know who in your organization is better at this than others. Seek advice from those more experienced in these matters.

Actively listen, paraphrase, show empathy, reflect and reframe what you have heard in more neutral terms. This may help the party you trying to help to focus on the concern and move away from a personal attack and negative commentary.

 Talk about feelings, but don’t vent and dwell or that will feed the fire. For example you might state something such as:

When you state ….

I think ….

And I feel ….

Helping the other party to think about how you are feeling as you are trying to help them, helps focus the party on recognizing feelings, and hopefully moving towards de-escalation and trying to focus on the underlying concerns.

Finally, it is important to understand differences and turn them into opportunities. Given this concern with respect to the conflict, how can we work together to address the concern? How can we help the other party? How can we help the situation? Who else might we partner with going forward? What are the implications of taking certain actions? What might be the impacts be of taking certain actions? How might those impacts be evaluated? Thinking through the potential actions may help diffuse the situation and lead towards trying an approach that shows the greatest promise to help de-escalate and resolve the concern. Having thought through several alternatives, this may lead to various strategies as contingencies depending on how the other party reacts.

Sometimes role playing the potential approach can help. Be open to multiple ideas on what might work in the given situation.

For additional reading I recommend you look at this article by Katie Shonk from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation. She offers some great points for consideration.

Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA is an international speaker, that helps organization overcome conflict and enhance effectiveness. Mike is dedicated to making individuals, organizations, thought-leading entrepreneurs and executives more successful. Michael’s books, including The Servant Manager, How to Work with the IRS, Second Edition and his most recent book, now also available as an eBook, Peaceful Resolutions are available at this link.  On point resources are available online at www.mikegreg.com and check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com or call (651) 633-5311.