Every workplace experiences conflict. Whether it’s a tiff over whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher or deep disagreement over an impending merger, in today’s unpredictable business world, conflict is the one constant. Conflict in general isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it can be productive, opening the door to important discussions, innovative ideas, inspired solutions, and improved ways of operating. But when conflict is unproductive or isn’t resolved, it can encourage toxicity and has the potential to spell huge damage for your culture and ultimately, for your business.
Do you have a strategy for dealing with workplace conflict? If not, here’s a 5-step plan to help prevent and address conflict in your organization.
1. Communicate effectively. Many (if not most) conflicts in the workplace stem from a lack of effective communication. When employees receive no information, inaccurate information, or incomplete information, negative conflict is an outcome. Preventing conflict from arising in the first place can be as simple as ensuring employees regularly receive clear, accurate and timely communication. Encouraging a culture of open communication also creates space for colleagues to talk about areas where they don’t see eye-to-eye in a respectful and productive way.
2. Illustrate what’s acceptable. By having clear policies and procedures in your code of conduct that define what acceptable behaviour looks like in your organization, and putting it in writing (here’s where your employee handbook comes in!), you’ll be able to head off many scenarios that could create conflict before they happen. If expectations around employee conduct and performance aren’t clear, it’s likely that employees won’t all be on the same page.
3. Define your conflict resolution procedures. Include a clear conflict resolution process in your employee manual that lays out the steps and timelines for addressing conflicts, encourages open communication, and includes a clear progression based on the nature and seriousness of the conflict. Creating clarity around conflict resolution helps employees feel secure in the knowledge that they can bring forward issues or complaints, and that they’ll be heard and dealt with appropriately.
4. Create proactive policies. A big mistake many employers make is waiting until there’s a crisis on hand to formalize a clear process for addressing conflict, which can allow issues to fester for too long. Having an established conflict resolution process in writing before you need it means managers and employers aren’t scrambling to come up with a process that makes sense when tensions are already running high.
5. Get it out in the open. Dodging on-the-job conflict doesn’t work. How many times have you bit your tongue at work, telling yourself that if you only wait it out, “this too shall pass”. The truth is, ignoring an issue and hoping it goes away on its own only makes things worse by driving conflict underground. Encourage employees to express concerns. When conflict does come up, act swiftly, follow your conflict resolution process, and address the disagreement head-on. Allowing conflict to percolate can harm productivity, create divides between coworkers, decrease engagement, and eventually lead to turnover.
Even if the initial clash appears to have resolved itself, if the root cause of conflict isn’t addressed, the issue is likely to remain just under the surface, rearing its head at an inopportune moment. While creating unnecessary drama and feeding the fire by over-inflating small disagreements isn’t helpful either, addressing conflicts proactively means a quicker, more permanent return to a state of harmony, cooperation and collaboration.
Your Engaged HR Assignment: Many employers have clear policies and procedures around just about everything except addressing conflict. The head-in-the-sand approach to conflict resolution isn’t doing anyone any favours, though. If you haven’t got a transparent, clear, and fair conflict resolution process detailed in writing, now’s the time to make it happen!
As always, if you need help developing a conflict resolution process that makes sense for your organization, we’re happy to lend a hand.