Conflict resolution in the workplace

January 08, 2023  •  Reading Time: 10 min.

Resolving workplace conflict in 7 steps

Wherever people work together, sooner or later conflict occurs and disagreement or a difficult conversation may be inevitable.

What often follows are seemingly endless discussions, mutual recriminations and hardened fronts instead of finding common ground or a way to approach conflict. Possible solutions for handling conflict are a long way off, and the atmosphere in the office is tense. When conflict occurs, it’s often hard to continue doing a good job. And while it may be tempting to avoid conflict in the workplace altogether by ignoring specific behaviors or a disagreement, this is usually a bad idea and can lead to even more stress.

two colleagues discuss with each other

It is therefore much better to look at different communication styles. Sometimes resolving workplace conflict can be done simply by placing the focus on effective communication rather than emotions. Hence, it can be helpful for both parties to acknowledge each other’s communication style and brainstorm solutions together to reach a point of agreement. Bear in mind that you can also ask an outside facilitator (such as human resources) for help, particularly when employees can’t solve their own conflicts or when potential legal issues arise and disciplinary action needs to be taken.

We will now take a closer look at workplace conflict in general, how to handle conflict well, and – of course – how to resolve conflict among employees or on the job!

The conflict – what’s its root cause and what does it do to you as an employee?

It is obvious that when conflict arises, the interests and wishes of the parties involved do not coincide. This can be attributed to different working styles and responsibilities, conflicting perspectives, the struggle for recognition and resources, but also personal character traits, role assignments and perceptions.

People often have a precise idea of what their counterpart wants and how they should behave. In addition, the other person naturally needs to understand what you mean and want yourself! If poor communication – accusations, misinterpretations, hasty statements, unclear messages – are then added to the mix, it doesn’t take long for the dreaded bang to occur and emotions to rise. Or they don’t. Then a conflict smolders on, spreads and creates a persistently bad working climate. Sick days increase, productivity drops, and perhaps the company’s image suffers as well. What can cause high costs for the organization primarily results in one major consequence for you: stress.

This is exactly why it is so important to resolve conflict!

Resolving conflict – 5 tips you can implement immediately

  • ➜ Tip 1: Don’t think of conflicts as a bad thing. They are a sign that something needs to be addressed in the workplace. For example, disputes motivate individuals to reflect on their behavior and prompt the team to communicate more intensively with each other. In this way, they offer the chance to break up entrenched structures and bring new momentum to the office. See conflicts as an opportunity for change!
  • ➜ Tip 2: Listen to yourself. Even if you like to blame others, you should first reflect on your own conflict behavior. How have you resolved conflicts in the past and with what success? What behaviors can you use to resolve conflicts? What bothers you so much about the other person’s behavior? It is often the case that you cannot change people, but only yourself.
  • ➜ Tip 3: Strengthen your self-confidence. Your opinion counts just as much as that of the other party! Beware of compromises, they often merely mean that no one is really satisfied with the solution. This can lead to further conflict and loss of motivation. Your goal should be to achieve a win-win situation that sustainably takes into account the goals of all parties involved.
  • ➜ Tip 4: Look for allies. Sometimes the fronts are already hardened, or you fear a confrontation with superiors. In this case, it can be helpful to consult an impartial, professional third party, such as the human resources department, the workers’ council, or a mediation body.
  • ➜ Tip 5: Take enough time for the discussion and choose a neutral location. Such matters cannot simply be settled between doors.
Conflict resolution at the workplace

With all the pent-up emotions and sensitivities, finding a resolution to a conflict is no easy task and quite unpleasant for most people, especially since the most important rule for success is to remain objective.

As an employee, therefore, the best way to resolve any conflict is to leverage your soft skills:

👍 Active listening: Listen carefully. Try to understand your counterpart’s version and only ask comprehension questions. Stay calm and formulate your perception of the problem without interpreting or evaluating anything. Talk about your feelings and wishes, not about what the other person seems to have done wrong. Because when people are attacked head-on, there are usually three ways for them to respond: Fight, flight or belittle – and none of them is a good solution. What you want to achieve is a negotiation involving both sides.

👍 Then try to work out solutions together. These should describe prospective behavior as concretely as possible. This makes it easier to adhere to in the future.

👍 Finally, express your appreciation for addressing conflict and the conflict resolution. Then give yourself and your counterpart some time to process what you have experienced and adjust to the new situation.

What are 5 workplace conflicts and resolutions?

We hope our brief tips on how to resolve conflict in the workplace were helpful! If you would like to delve deeper into the topic and want to understand and handle conflict more effectively, we have compiled 5 typical conflicts in the workplace and want to show you how employees can handle inevitable disagreements.

How to deal with certain behaviors that cause conflicts:

1. Task-related conflict

When people in an interdependent project need to coordinate their tasks in an efficient and coordinated manner, sometimes disputes arise. For example, if one employee is constantly behind on reports, it frequently affects everyone else’s ability to meet the given deadline.

💡 Delegate tasks effectively. Communicate the importance of responsibility to the team. Clarify what everyone needs to do in their role so that every employee is on the same page as the deadline approaches.

2. Leadership conflict

Every leader is different: some are bold and charismatic, while others are more relaxed. Some are very technical and adhere strictly to rules and deadlines, while others are more reserved. Everyone has a distinct leadership style, and each employee responds differently to it.

💡 To resolve potential conflicts, emphasize mutual respect for differences. Leaders should be aware of their own leadership style and how it interacts with employees’ work styles and personalities. They should be able to relate to and engage with their employees in order to resolve workplace conflict with success.

3. Work style conflict

Employees often have different approaches to work and dealing with problems. Some people prefer to work in teams, while others favor doing their work alone. Some employees don’t need additional direction to complete a task, while others like to be guided. Some people work better under pressure, while others like to get their tasks done well ahead of time.

💡 Again, the idea of mutual respect and understanding applies. We may prefer a particular style of working, but sometimes people need to work together to come up with an idea that is greater than what a single mind could come up with on its own. This means that employees must learn to deal with each other’s differences, as these play an important role in creative and productive work.

4. Discrimination

This is a serious conflict that may require the HR department to be involved.

💡 When harassment or discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, gender, or the like occurs, the organization must demonstrate an explicit commitment to openness, acceptance, and understanding.

5. Creative conflict

Conflict often arises when brainstorming with others – yet this is an excellent opportunity to make the idea even better. Employees need to listen to and acknowledge each other’s ideas, express their own, and then put it all together to come up with the best solution.

💡 If two people disagree on a project idea, they can look for compromises to make both ideas work and create an even better result from the collaboration.

Employees have a conflict at work

What are the 7 steps in conflict resolutions?

Avoiding conflict altogether sometimes seems like the easiest way out. And while it’s important to prevent conflicts by having several resources available for problem solving, it is also important to have those difficult conversations and address differing opinions so that employees feel comfortable again.

This is an effective 7-step model for resolving conflict:

1. Arrange a meeting

Approach your conflict partner and ask for a discussion in private. Do not ambush the colleague – certainly not in front of other co-workers – but agree on a specific date to discuss the problem.

2. Prepare yourself

Prepare for the meeting by answering the following questions for yourself in advance:

  • What is the conflict about?
  • What are the causes?
  • Who has been involved in the conflict so far?
  • How has it gone so far?
  • What role do you play in maintaining or even exacerbating the conflict?
  • What do you want to address and what goals are you pursuing with the conversation?

3. Communicate perceptions

Stay constructive and avoid a personal level. It is best to speak in first-person messages and communicate your own perceptions to your counterpart. Don’t say, “You never give me important information in a timely manner,” but rather, “I feel like I’m not informed in a timely manner and therefore can’t do my job as I should.” It is worth asking questions, as this will get your counterpart to reflect:

  • “What explanation do you have for our communication problem?”
  • “How do you interpret our situation?”

4. Review the situation

During the conversation, keep reviewing your own interpretations. Are they objective? Or is your thinking distorted?

5. Share your feelings

Make it clear to your counterpart how you feel and what the situation is doing to you:

  • “I feel inferior and stressed. This also lowers my motivation.”

6. Make your intentions clear

Explain your intent at the end of the conversation:

  • “My intention is to optimize our collaboration.”

7. Propose actions and solutions

After you have made your intentions known, you should suggest how you want to proceed. Make it clear what you want to change and provide concrete suggestions. Vague formulations are not helpful.

good mood at work

Conclusion – why is conflict resolution in the workplace important?

Always remember that good conflict resolution ends with an agreement, not with the defeat of your counterpart. Resolving conflict is often not easy, and a single conversation may not be enough. However, if conflicts go unresolved, it can create serious problems for morale, productivity and company culture. No one wants to work in a tense, passive-aggressive environment where they are constantly uncomfortable.

Steps to resolving workplace conflict – a summary

  • The first step is to calm down and accept the reality of the conflict.
  • Next, come up with a plan to resolve the problem by talking to the other person involved before the tension between you becomes more and more unbearable.
  • It’s not only important to sit down and talk, but also to listen.
  • Use your empathy and have a genuine dialogue with the other person. Tip: Active listening is critical to true conflict resolution.
  • At the end of the conversation, think about yourself and both sides of the situation.
  • It helps to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand what they are thinking and feeling so you can resolve the conflict.

Frequently asked Questions about conflicts at wrok

What are examples of workplace conflicts?

– Discrimination or sexual harassment.
– Poor communication that causes a mistake.
– Tension between teams or departments.
– Clash of different personalities or work styles.

How to deal with workplace conflict?

1. Talk to the one person you have issues with.
2. Keep the focus on behavior and events, not on anything personal.
3. Listen carefully and identify points where you disagree/agree.
4. Prioritize the areas of conflict.
5. Come up with a plan to deal with the conflict and follow through with your plan.

What are 5 conflict management styles?

Based on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, there are five main styles of conflict management: Collaboration, competition, avoidance, accommodation, and compromise.

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