by Jennifer Tobkin
by Jennifer Tobkin
Being belligerent is not a mark of professionalism, but neither is being too meek to speak up about problems until after they get bad. These are not the only counterproductive ways of dealing with conflict that you might find in a work environment. You might have a coworker who is passive-aggressive or one who tends to create drama where none exists. There may even be some members of your team who cannot fathom that they could ever be wrong. Not all of these types of conflict in the workplace have easy solutions, but you as an employee or a manager can get better at dealing with them.
Conflict Between Customers and Employees
In professions where you deal directly with the public, the chances are high that you will come into conflict with your company’s customers. You try hard to abide by the principle of “the customer is always right,” even when the customers’ demands are outrageous. What do you do, though, when the customers’ conduct borders on threatening or abusive? How do managers stop matters from escalating into direct confrontation?
Employees should keep things in perspective and not take it personally when customers vent their frustrations about their experiences with the company or its products or services. Detailed company policies and their consistent application can prevent many incidents of these types of conflict in the workplace. Your employee handbook should detail many scenarios about how to avoid miscommunications, how to resolve customer complaints, and how to prevent direct confrontations with customers.
Conflict Among Coworkers
Other types of conflict in the workplace arise frequently when a small group of people works closely together on an ongoing basis. Certain personalities clash, and if they do not speak up about their grievances, then minor annoyances can turn into resentment. On the other hand, if they bicker about every little thing that bothers them, then workplace productivity plummets. Conflict among coworkers can be one of the most challenging types of workplace conflict to address.
Conflict Between Business Partners
It is possible to prevent some types of conflict in the workplace just by being strategic in designing how the company runs. Some business entity types even require you to codify your dispute resolution procedures before you officially incorporate your business. If your company is a partnership or limited liability company (LLC), you already have an operating agreement or articles of incorporation. These documents outline how you should resolve conflicts among business partners if these conflicts arise. The solutions are not always simple; in the worst cases, they involve lawsuits or dissolving the business.
Dealing With the Dreaded Chain Reaction of Delays
A common source of conflict is when a coworker’s actions or inaction has caused you to complete tasks late. Meeting deadlines is part of your job description and your professional reputation. It is very frustrating when someone else’s lateness delays your work. For example, what happens when your supervisor has assigned you to submit a report about the data on this week’s sales, but you can’t write the report until the sales team shares the completed spreadsheets with you?
You have several options for resolving or preventing this problem, and they use different conflict management strategies. When the deadline approaches, you can email or call the people who needed to send documents to you but have not done so. This strategy may or may not yield a positive response. Alternatively, you can set the deadlines earlier than you actually need the information. By doing this, you set a built-in grace period where other people can be late without making you late. If the problem persists, you can involve your own supervisors in the pursuit of a solution. Complaining to upper management about your coworkers has its risks, though. You might end up causing more conflict than you resolve.
Better Leadership Can Resolve Many Types of Conflicts in the Workplace
Preventing avoidable conflicts is an important part of your job as a manager. Designing a conflict-proof workflow for your team makes your entire organization more efficient. Therefore, conflict management through leadership helps your whole organization save time and money.
Set realistic goals for your team and its individual members. Communicate these goals clearly, and give specific instructions about how to achieve them. Even though your instructions are specific, you should leave some flexibility for how employees approach the tasks. Allowing employees to work in the ways in which they are most comfortable improves workplace morale. Likewise, micromanagement causes conflict and makes the organization function less efficiently. Furthermore, browbeating employees about their subpar performance without offering suggestions for improvement helps no one.
Win, Lose, or Compromise
In many organizations, employees would chafe at managerial feedback that scolds them for watching the video presentation on the new project guidelines in two sittings instead of three. It is possible to give too many details about how employees should complete an assignment, just as it is possible to give too few details. Employees appreciate flexibility, but when they must collaborate, conflicts often arise.
When should managers let employees work out the details of the workflow among themselves, and when should they intervene? It depends on the employees, the nature of the project, and the nature of the conflict. The best thing you can do as a manager is to have the greatest possible supply of conflict management strategies at your disposal. By taking a conflict management course, you can learn more strategies to add to the ones you already use. Conflict management training and coaching programs are available to managers in a variety of professional fields.
Interpersonal Conflict Can Happen Anywhere, Including the Workplace
In some contexts, a little bit of interpersonal drama makes life interesting. No judgment if you check celebrity news websites during breaks at work. Perhaps you even joined a Facebook group of your former high school classmates, just so you could be in on the gossip. In a work environment, however, interpersonal conflicts of almost every sort are counterproductive.
Professional etiquette dictates that you ignore minor annoyances and slights. If you escalate a confrontation whenever you don’t like someone’s tone of voice, very little work will be accomplished. Worse, you will gain a reputation as a short-tempered, egotistical boss. The first rule for resolving interpersonal conflict in the workplace is to choose your battles.
Use Your Managerial Authority to Address Conflict-Prone Behavior Before It Escalates
Almost everyone who has made it to a managerial role has attended workshops about speaking up when you see someone behaving disrespectfully toward someone else. For a variety of reasons, it is much harder to do this in real life than training workshops make it sound. Most of the time, everyone stands by as one person says rude, or even abusive, things, hoping that someone else will speak up and challenge the person being rude.
When you are the manager, you should be the person to stop unprofessional and disrespectful behavior. You don’t have to be confrontational about it. Use your judgment about whether it is best to say something in public or in a one-on-one meeting. For example, if you hear an employee repeatedly interrupting when others are speaking, say, “Let her finish.” If you witness a true breach of professionalism or basic etiquette, you should talk privately with the person who committed the breach. Give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn’t know how inappropriate their behavior was, but be clear about how that behavior is unacceptable in the workplace. Focus on the behavior, not on the person.
Working with people from a wide variety of personal and professional backgrounds is a very rewarding experience. It might even be among the reasons that you chose your career path. Every industry and discipline has its own subculture, though, and one team’s way of doing things might clash with another team’s. The new team member whose resume includes the military and a stint as a patent examiner might clash with the irreverent mindset of the design creative bros, even though all parties involved are science nerds.
Finding common ground while working on cooperative projects is both necessary and rewarding, but it takes work and skill. The best managers can see everyone’s perspective and can deal with all parties individually on their own terms. One of your tasks as a manager is to set the tone for the project you are leading. You will end up with your own unique workplace culture. In the example cited above, it could be a unique mix of patent examiner precision and invention bro good cheer.
Where to Get Help Resolving These Types of Conflict in the Workplace
If conflict in your environment is sabotaging your productivity and worker satisfaction, you can improve the situation by investing in your conflict management skills and the conflict management skills of your team members. Workplace conflict mediation services are available, and so are training workshops on conflict management and conflict resolution. Get in touch with us to find out more about how to resolve conflicts in your workplace.
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