May 20, 2024 How do you maintain focus when conflict hits?

Dart hitting a dart board in the center

As a mediation and negotiation specialist, I am here to empower you with knowledge, whether it's ahead of time or when things have broken down. The proactive approach to education can significantly reduce the severity and number of harmful conflicts.  Disagreements, different priorities, different points of view, miscommunications, and differing personalities are all reasons for conflict in the workplace.  The following discussion delves into the root cause, recognizing the tell-tale signs and practical steps to take when disputes arise.

 

The root cause of conflict

 

Multiple opinions: Creativity is encouraged in the workplace. However, this can also lead to conflict with differing opinions. But remember, these conflicts can be opportunities for growth and learning. Given the perception of the facts from divergent points of view, parties can see issues from varying perspectives.  These may be material to one participant and trivial to another. What to do, how to do it, how many resources should be applied, and timelines for various milestones with competing priorities are all examples of conflict areas.

Limited resources: Resources are always scarce, budgets are tight, and no one ever receives everything they want. This can negatively impact quality, quantity, and timeliness. Instead of collaboration, this can lead to conflict and self-preservation.  The result is poorer productivity, disharmony, and decreased employee and customer satisfaction. This is a recipe for disaster in the long term.

Differing Workload: Workload distribution disparity can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction.  Team members want to be treated fairly.  Even though workload distribution may be uneven due to supply chain issues, other competing deadlines, and other reasons, feelings of injustice can still strain relationships. It is imperative to explain why with open communication and educate everyone about what is happening and why, as appropriate, to address these issues proactively.

 

The tell-tale signs of conflict

 

Stepping back from the situation, it may be possible to define the underlying issues rather than the surface issues of the conflict.  Some of the more common signs of workplace conflict include:

Simmering history: This could have been building between individuals or factions for some time. Something may have set it off currently, but there is significant emotion from historical events.

Poor communication: Not knowing why allows participants to conjure up all sorts of reasons with potentially negative connotations as to the reasons for the conflict. Open, honest, transparent communication addresses these types of issues. Feeling misinformed or not informed is a seed for disengagement.

Passive-aggressive behavior: As tension increases, personalities may be strained, resulting in aggressive and heated behavior. Everyone has a breaking point. It is best not to test this. The result can be negative, passive-aggressive behavior, not addressing issues, and an aversion to open confrontation.

Increased absenteeism and turnover: When conflict is a normal part of the work environment, who wants to come to work? A natural response is increased sick and annual leave, higher turnover, and lower morale. Why stay in a dysfunctional organization? Life is too short, and with a desire for balance, the work environment is no longer where someone wants to be.

Reduced productivity: Regardless of the entity, business results matter and are measured. This is true whether an entity is for profit or not for profit. Focusing on the bottom line, how well we do what we do, and how well you are servicing customers tells a story. When these measures indicate a less positive impact, getting behind those numbers and finding out why is essential.

 

What to do when conflict arises

 

Communication is key: Take the time to listen actively. Ask open-ended questions and then listen. Follow up with additional probing questions. Summarize and paraphrase what you heard.   Create a safe place where everyone has a say without fear of retaliation. Empathize with others when they share their frustrations and anger. Let them know that they genuinely have been heard.

Build trust and team-building: Explore various team-building techniques and bring appropriate resources and activities to promote bonding with each other. Build trust. Reinforce team results over individual accomplishments. Catch others doing things right and reinforce positive behavior. When team members trust each other, they are more likely to promote collaboration toward common goals.

Coach conflict resolution: Educating is critical. Participants can confidently do so by bringing in educators to educate and then demonstrate, guide, and enable others to apply conflict resolution techniques. Having the tools, practicing them, and gaining confidence will help them navigate the space.

Establish clear policies and procedures: What should a person do in a conflict? Who should they speak to? What do they need to do to take action? Set out a policy that works for your organization. How are decisions made?  What is the protocol?  Should they talk to the other party first, having learned conflict resolution techniques, then elevate to their manager, spelling out the facts, issues, feelings, and interests with recommended solutions? Having a sense of control, predictability, and progress helps to reduce the stress response and corresponding elevation of tensions.

Bring on board a mediator: A mediator should be trained and have experience in mediation. A trained and qualified mediator can help the parties agree on a resolution everyone can live with going forward. Not everyone may like the resolution, but at least they can live with the result after working through the process. An impartial third party can often see alternatives that the participants were blind to see, given their biases. The mediator can promote understanding between the parties.

 

Promoting listening, harmony, and collaboration in the workplace with ongoing training and reinforcement can minimize negative conflict and its resulting adverse effects. Conflict is inevitable, but it does not have to be harmful and destructive.

 

What do you think? I welcome your thoughts.

 

Check out these links if you need assistance or want to learn more about collaboration, conflict resolution, or enhancing your Servant Manager skills

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]