Many employees have horror stories about conflict in the workplace. The story doesn’t end with management working with the team to find a solution but rather takes a more dramatic turn with conflict management failures.
“... and then management did absolutely nothing!”
“... and she just kept doing it even though they told her not to!”
“.... and then I was punished for his terrible behavior!”
Although there are plenty of companies that handle conflict management poorly, many are headed in the right direction.
Here are 17 organizations that can inspire other companies to handle workplace problems better because of their advanced conflict management skills.
Dan Klaras, president of Assurance, believes conflict management starts with him.
“Imagine a leader unable to be vulnerable when being challenged, or strong with conviction when they need to offer an alternative position,” Klaras writes. “This individual wouldn’t be much of a leader and certainly wouldn’t be bringing value to their company.”
By embracing conflict and creating a healthy discussion around multiple viewpoints, Klaras creates an open culture at Assurance that gives lower-level employees the confidence to make themselves heard.
The team at Wrike offers similar advice, but from the perspective of the employee. Emily Bonnie, Wrike’s content marketing manager, encourages leaders to listen to their employees and become a resource when conflict arises.
“Your team needs to know that you’re there to listen when they encounter conflict and help them out,” Bonnie writes. “It’s not something they should keep to themselves or stew over in silence.”
Listening and acting makes leaders more effective instead of forcing employees to argue among themselves.
TK Consulting & Design
Takia Lamb, CEO of TK Consulting, recently shared a story about her friend experiencing culture-related conflict in the workplace.
“As a black woman in the professional workplace myself, I have often been faced with cultural differences that create challenges in the workforce whether from other cultures or my own,” Lamb writes. “My experience has shown me that although it doesn’t account for all the issues, culture can be a factor to consider when addressing inter-office conflict.”
In her article at Spendefy, Lamb implores readers to add cultural competency training to offices and give employees the space they need to hold meaningful conversations. Without this, you could isolate your best employees simply because of cultural differences.
In an article for Nimble, Lydia Ramsey reports 84 percent of employees have experienced rudeness in the workplace. When employees were asked why they didn’t address the rude behavior, there were three common answers:
Political correctness, or fear of offending someone
Inability to handle confrontation
Restraints placed by HR to prevent conflict
Many policies and protections that are made to protect employees from rudeness or bullying can actually hurt people who experience it. This is another reason why it’s important to train your team on culture sensitivity and how to respectfully confront issues with colleagues.
Even teams that work together well, like the staff at Central Insurance, will encounter problems. Taking just a few minutes to reflect on a situation can prevent conflict and reduce assumptions.
“We’re all guilty of being quick to make negative assumptions about others, but often we have no idea what is driving the other person’s behavior,” Luke Swartz writes. “Give that person ‘the jerk test’ and ask yourself some questions. Did the person really mean any harm? Is it the person or the policy? What’s the other person’s culture?”
Instead of immediately confronting them for their behavior, you can understand their motives and approach them calmly.
Aventr specializes in employee engagement through software tools, which is why it makes sense that the founders take steps to create a healthy work environment for their employees. One thing they warn employees against is forming generalizations against other teams and co-workers.
“We usually tend to believe [generalizations] once enough people say them, thereby participating in the collective misinformation of the masses,” advisor and Aventr blog editor James Marshall writes. “They often come supercharged with unnecessary negativity that sends moods soaring south.”
A minor complaint such as “We work late every night while the other departments always leave early,” can lead to distrust, low morale, and emotional confrontations if it’s repeated enough.
Brian de Haaf is the co-founder and CEO of Aha!, which makes product roadmap software. In a cheeky article, he shares his commitment to creating a drama-free workplace by finding (and charming) office snakes.
“Office snake thrives on negative attention,” de Haaf writes. “Making others feel worse feeds this person’s fragile ego. So, the next time a colleague starts whipping up everyone’s emotions, just chalk it up to self-centeredness and insecurity.”
You can’t control the people you work with, but you can control how you react to their actions.
Keith Rosen is the CEO of Profit Builders and works to improve the processes of top sales organizations. If office snakes threaten to tear down morale, then managers have two choices: Face the conflict like a rhinoceros or like an ostrich.
“Managers and salespeople continually experience the fight or flight syndrome when faced with conflict or challenging situations,” Rosen writes for the Salesforce blog. “[Most people] approach these conversations like a charging rhinoceros or, conversely, stick your head in the sand and avoid them, hoping these problems magically disappear.”
Rosen helps people identify where they stand on the food chain so they can get closer to working peacefully in the office environment.
Communicaid works to improve cross-cultural communication across organizations, but that doesn’t mean the company is immune to its own internal breakdowns. After all, conflict is an integral part of every office.
“We can either live with it, ignore it or deal with it,” writes Declan Mulkeen, the company’s then-marketing director. “Managing conflict is a key skill for effective management and can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful manager.”
Mulkeen offers four tips for dealing with conflict as a manger:
Recognize the conflict, as it will not resolve itself.
Never play favorites with employees.
Create a clear code of conduct that employees can follow.
Know when to be firm and when to hold back.
This takes practice and is something even experienced managers can struggle with in their organizations.
It’s human nature to mix emotions with conflict, which is why many disagreements become personal or why managers struggle to remain impartial. The team at Oursky solves this with data.
“One of Ourksy’s key values is self-management, and to help facilitate this value, we often rely on data,” Oursky’s Sam Elsley writes. “Data can be as simple as using a simple time-tracking software which helps team members see where their time is being used.”
Instead of subjectively complaining about workload levels or accusing co-workers of working less, Oursky managers can turn to data to see who is working harder and on what. Data takes the emotion out of the conflict.
Ruth Raventós is the co-founder and CEO of Nelio software. After reading that 65 percent of startup failures were attributed to the founding team, she drafted a blog post explaining how conflict arises so quickly in startups — and what she and her team do to anticipate it.
Raventós starts each business opportunity by asking a few questions of her potential partners. Many of these are open-ended and lead to further discussion about the project:
Why do you want to create a startup or launch this project?
What personal and work habits do you have and want to maintain?
What roles do you want to take on during this process, and what will be your contribution?
This creates transparency and addresses questions upfront that might need to be answered later. Even addressing these questions within smaller projects in a company can help people learn about the roles each person is taking and how they will finish their part of the work.
You may find there are very specific types of conflict that arise in your organization or even throughout your industry. The team at Shushnote realize there is a seemingly ever-present rift between marketers and developers, for example.
“The Wavelength Conflict Theory: A marketer and a programmer do not think on the same wavelength,” they write. “Conflict can arise due to the different ways that programmers and marketers think.”
Identifying this conflict and why it occurs so often in the company is the first step to solving problems and preventing future issues.
The employees at CX-Ray believe in solving solutions quickly when they arise. Instead of waffling between the he-said, she-said elements, they come up with solutions to make both parties happy.
“Practice clear communication, and focus on actionable solutions,” product owner and project manager Gabor Bauer writes. “When a conflict arises, deal with it immediately and resist the temptation to ignore it.”
The longer a conflict goes unaddressed, the longer it has to build into a large problem and permanent rift between employees.
While you want to get down to solutions, it’s also important to acknowledge how your team feels. The team at LiquidPlanner first addresses the emotions involved in any conflict to validate them, and only then dives into solutions.
“Some conflicts occur because a person’s ideas and feelings are not being acknowledged as important,” Bruce Harpham writes. “By taking the time to acknowledge your team member’s problem, you could prevent any ensuing conflict from occurring.”
There’s a myth that emotions have no place in the workplace, which is a belief that can actually prevent communication and cause additional conflict in the future.
Orega Business Centres
The team at Orega works to create comfortable work environments for its clients. While a quiet space and comfortable chair helps teams focus, unaddressed conflict stops productivity in its tracks.
“Sometimes, conflict can’t be resolved easily and employees need to file a formal complaint,” the Orega team writes. “It is important that all colleagues know how to do this process so that they don’t feel uncomfortable.”
Even startups with a handful of employees and few set processes need to set up a formal complaint document. Otherwise, you could create a hostile work environment without an outlet for anonymous resolution.
The team at Due has found creativity and flexibility to be the top qualities needed for effective conflict resolution.
“It is the mark of a person skilled in conflict resolution that they come to the table with a variety of options as to how the problem could be fixed,” tech recruiter William Lipovsky writes in a guest post on the Due blog.
“This is in contrast to the inexpert person who comes solely focused on one possible outcome and ends up trying to force their own desired outcome whether or not it’s agreeable to the other party.”
Not only should you come to the table with actionable solutions, you should present multiple options that require both parties to compromise. The increases the likelihood of a meeting ending with a solution.
Not all problems will be solved with a quick meeting or an experienced moderator. Sometimes, personalities clash and employees get frustrated, but you can work to create a positive work environment for two people even if they don’t get along.
“In cases such as these that stem from the workload or workplace environment, identify what steps you as a facilities manager can take to alleviate the problem,” iOffice account manager George Rogers writes. “It could be just a matter of changing the workload, rearranging the office set-up to add distance between certain workers, or changing the layout of the floor space.”
iOffice specializes in creating constructive floor plans because they’ve been there. They know the frustration of working next to someone you don’t get along with and how this can cause productivity to plummet.