Workplace conflict occurs when one worker’s wants or needs do not match the wants or needs of another worker. Conflict can also occur between employees and supervisors, employees and customers, and employees and vendors/suppiers.
Ignoring a conflict or denying that it exists can cause tension and turn a minor problem between employees into a major conflict that can affect productivity and morale. Workplace conflict can take many different forms.
- differing goals or priorities,
- distinctive styles, methods, or approaches to tasks, and
- opposing personalities.
The ability to define and resolve conflicts can help you in all manner of personal and professional situations. Acknowledging these conflicts, although difficult at times, can help you to recognize their causes and identify constructive ways to resolve them.
Workplace conflict is stressful and difficult to manage. Rather than acknowledging a conflict, some employees will deny the existence of the conflict. To do this, these employees may:
- ignore the problem and hope that it will go away,
- make excuses or try to justify the reason for the conflict, or
- underestimate the extent of the conflict.
These employees are making a mistake.
When employees refuse to acknowledge workplace conflicts, strong emotions such as anger, disappointment, frustration, and anxiety can build over time. Recognizing and acknowledging conflicts as they arise can control and keep minor workplace issues from growing into major ones.
If you find yourself involved in a workplace conflict you should acknowledge the conflict in order to bring it to a successful resolution. Acknowledging a conflict is a necessary step toward the goal of resolving it. To do this, you will need to:
- Define the conflict clearly and objectively
- Put aside emotions and any judgment about the other person involved in the conflictual situation,
- Try to see the conflict from the other person’s point of view, and
- Clearly and specifically identify the cause or causes of the conflict.
- Identify areas of agreement and disagreement
- Identify understandings or goals that you and the other person share;
- Identify areas of disagreement and contention, and
- Answer the question, “How do we solve this conflict?
- Accurately restate the conflict using important details and examples
- Once you undestand the conflict, its causes, and areas of agreement and disagreemment, you should restate the conflict in your own words to ensure your understanding of it, and
- Objectively restate the conflict to the person or person you are having the conflict with to be sure that all people involved have the same understanding of the conflict. Use explicit details and examples to support your understanding of the conflict.
Communication skills are critical for conflict resolution. Active listening during a conflict requires a great deal of concentration because anger and frustration can be distracting.
- Build on what you know. It is important to stop thinking about what you will say next and to put aside emotions so that you can focus on what the speaker is saying. Not listening can make a conflict worse.
- Develop your skills. Use listening strategies to identify and follow the speaker’s main points, identify the cause of the conflict, and figure out what is needed to resolve it.
- Watch and listen for social cues, such as the speaker’s tone of voice, gestures, and other body language.
- Listen for signal words and phrases that indicate order, cause and effect, or important facts.
- Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t know a word or its meaning.
- Finally, apply your knowledge to resolve the conflict. For example,
- You just began working at an office. Supervisor A is very friendly and stops your workspace to greet you in the morning and ask about your family, weekend plans, etc. Supervisor B rarely speaks to you but often takes files off your desk and walks away with them without a word. Supervisor B’s behavior really bothers you.
- Which of the following actions is the best way to resolve the problem?
- Tell Supervisor A about the problem.
- Politely approach Supervisor B about the issue.
- Do nothing and hope that Supervisor B’s behavior will change.
- Ask Supervisor A to speak to Supervisor B.
- By now you should know that ignoring the problem is the worst thing that you can do. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away and may have the opposite affect of making the problem worse.
- You should politely approach Supervisor B about the issue because she probably has no idea that her behavior is creating a conflict with you. Define the problem for Supervisor B, try to identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and restate the conflict in your own words.
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