In every workplace, there is bound to be differences of opinion. Everyone has a unique background and set of experiences that shapes who they are. As a result, there will be different perspectives and about what is the ‘right way to do things’ or ‘different way to do things.’ Conflict will happen as a consequence, but it should not be always seen as a negative.
Conflict in the workplace can be the foundation for innovation and growth of the team, the individuals, and the business. Without conflict, or people challenging the way we do things, there would be no new ideas and therefore no improvements in the way we operate.
Team conflicts are common in the workplace and they arise from a variety of sources, including differences in opinion, personality clashes, competition for resources, or misunderstandings.
How do conflicts occur?
This can manifest in different ways, such as misinterpreted messages, unclear instructions, or inadequate feedback. When team members are not on the same page, it can lead to misunderstandings and frustration.
To move past communication breakdowns, it’s essential to establish clear communication protocols. Encourage team members to ask for clarification when needed, provide regular updates, and ensure everyone is on the same page regarding project goals and expectations. Open and honest communication is key to resolving this issue.
Differences in Values and Goals
Teams often consist of individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences and values. These differences can lead to conflicts when team members’ values and goals clash. For example, one team member may prioritise efficiency, while another values thoroughness.
To overcome these conflicts, it’s essential to foster a culture of respect and understanding. Encourage team members to appreciate the diversity within the group and find common ground. Establishing shared team goals and values can also help create a sense of unity and purpose.
Role ambiguity can lead to conflicts within a team, arising from uncertainty about individual responsibilities. This can result in overlapping duties and a lack of accountability, creating misunderstandings and tensions.
To address this, it’s crucial to define and regularly update clear roles and responsibilities for each team member, aligning them with the project’s changing dynamics. This transparent approach not only mitigates conflicts but also enhances overall team performance.
Moreover, it’s essential for team members to have a comprehensive understanding of each other’s roles and expectations. This mutual awareness fosters effective communication, reducing the likelihood of conflicts stemming from misunderstandings or misaligned expectations.
Personalities within a team can sometimes clash, leading to conflicts. These conflicts may arise from differing communication styles, temperaments, or personal preferences. For instance, an introverted team member might clash with an extroverted colleague due to differing communication approaches.
To address personality conflicts, team leaders should encourage open discussions and promote empathy among team members. Help team members understand and appreciate the unique qualities and perspectives each member brings to the group. Additionally, it can be beneficial to provide training in conflict resolution and emotional intelligence.
Competition for Resources
Team members may experience conflicts when there is competition for limited resources, such as time, budget, or equipment. When individuals perceive that their interests are not being met, conflicts can arise.
To manage conflicts stemming from resource competition, establish fair allocation procedures and transparent decision-making processes. Ensure that team members understand the rationale behind resource allocation and that it aligns with project priorities and goals.
Sometimes, conflicts within a team can be triggered by external factors that affect team members’ personal lives. These may include stress, family issues, or health concerns. These external stressors can spill over into the workplace and lead to conflicts.
To address conflicts related to external factors, show empathy and support for team members facing personal challenges. Encourage open communication about these issues and, when necessary, provide flexibility in work arrangements to help team members manage their personal responsibilities.
Moving past team conflicts
The key to conflict is how you, as the leader, manages it. If there is conflict, then it’s an opportunity to gain clarity across the team and, if managed well, can be an opportunity for personal and team growth.
The following outlines 5 tips on managing conflict to ensure that the business thrives, and the workers feel that they have a voice, opinion and are respected by their colleagues and leaders.
At every stage, it is important to follow the following three golden rules:
- Be Specific
- Be Creative
- Be Confidential
1. Listen without Judgement
Even if you strongly disagree with the view being expressed, allow the person to finish talking.
Use open questions.
Try to find out why the person feels the way they do by asking open questions to allow them to elaborate and share their wider view.
Try to Understand the other person’s world and experiences.
Don’t make assumptions about the person. Their opinion is based on their upbringing and experiences. Everybody has a different history that shapes their views. Culture and religion can play a big part in a person’s opinion.
Engage with them.
Show interest in their view or actions through engagement. If the person feels less threatened, they will be more open to your view.
Understand Context and Perspective of the issue.
Explore the circumstances around the action and what was happening to the person on a wider scale. Is their view or action typical of them, or was other factors influencing them?
2. Determine/Clarify the Issue (Problem/Conflict)
Choose a neutral location.
When clarifying conflict, if possible, choose a safe location which is neutral to all parties. A quiet café can be ideal to diffuse any feeling of bias. If you pay for the coffee as well, it can demonstrate to the other person that you are looking for a positive outcome and are willing to listen to them.
Understand the Why.
In a non-threatening way, ask the person why they said/did the thing that caused the issue. Try to empathise with them as they talk. Put yourself in their position.
Explore how they feel about the situation.
Does the person feel remorse? Are they steadfast in their view? Would they do the same again? What makes them think that way? How do they feel about it now?
3. Use Calm/Neutral Language
Depersonalise the Conflict.
After understanding the why, look at the situation from an objective perspective. Take out the ‘who did what’ and concentrate on what happened. If the person can view it without seeing personalities and blame, they will understand the issue and the implications better. Calmly talk about what the outcomes were without using names, emotions and therefore blame.
Focus on Facts – Behaviour/Event.
Concentrate on what has happened. Why it happened and the result of the behaviour or event. Remove any interpretation and focus on the facts. If it helps, document them in a timeline.
Encourage new insights for you and them.
With the facts clearly understood, discuss how things could have been done differently. Start with some new appreciation that you have gained or learnt about the issue. Encourage them to open up about things that they now appreciate about the situation. Do they appreciate how their actions may have influenced the outcome and conflict?
4. Work Together to find Common Goal
Agree Desired Outcome.
After gaining an understanding of the issue, discuss what the desired state should look like. Nobody enjoys conflict, so agreeing a state of calmness should be a mutual objective. This may require a compromise on both parts but can be achieved by sharing what success looks like.
Gain Commitment to Resolving the Issue.
If both parties are committed to getting a more workable state, then the ‘how’ to achieve that invites innovation and ideas. Remember no idea is a stupid one, and even an unworkable one can lead to new ideas that may prove successful.
Understand that Compromise may be Needed.
Each person will have their own ideas of the ideal state. However, the middle ground is often the most successful. Compromise can feel like you’re betraying your ideals, but an agreed solution is more likely to work. It’s important to ensure that each party is willing to compromise to the benefit of the bigger picture.
5. Look Forward to the Future
Agree the Best Solution.
Be practical in forming the solution. What will work? Ensure that everyone is in agreement and understands the other perspectives and impacts. Where there has been a compromise, ensure that the reasons are clear and justified in that person.
Agree Timescales for Implementation.
Once the outcome is clear, it is important to agree the how it should be achieved. This includes realistic timescales where each person is clear of what they have to do and by what date.
Make it Happen.
As with every plan, it needs the commitment from each party to make it happen and be successful. Agree on regular reviews to ensure that the new practices are in place and old habits do not resurface. A fortnightly review is great to start with and then after a couple of meetings, it can be reviewed less frequently.