PAYDAY Workforce Solutions Blog

Conflict Resolution Strategies

On Jul 3, 2019

The recipe for workplace conflict is decidedly simple: bring
two or more people together and assign them a task. Unless the stars have
aligned in your favor, there’s going to be some cause for disagreement between
them, and if conflict ensues, their ability to cooperate will suffer.

Regrettably, too often employers tolerate unresolved
conflict because it isn’t a legal matter with potential fines, they’re busy
with other things, they don’t know how to manage it, or because doing so is
sure to be uncomfortable. But unresolved conflict is one of the most dangerous
threats to an organization because it prevents people from collaborating and
working efficiently, and successful teamwork is essential to your bottom line.

Causes of Conflict

Before we examine strategies for resolving conflict in the
workplace, let’s look at the common underlying causes of that conflict.
Understanding how conflicts arise will help you determine which strategy to

  • Miscommunication:
    Often a conflict between people is more perceived than real—a result of a
    misunderstanding or miscommunication. A speaker is unclear, or a listener takes
    a statement the wrong way. Offense or frustration is caused not because of a
    real disagreement, but because of a perception.
  • Incompatible
    positions or priorities:
    Conflicts often arise because two or more
    individuals (or teams) can’t all get what they want. Their ideas about what to
    do or how to do it can’t all be done together. Maybe a deadline that one person
    requires can’t be met without someone else having to rearrange their
    priorities, and maybe those priorities can’t easily be rearranged.
  • Emotional
    Some people try to get what they want by manipulating the
    emotions of others. A regularly tardy employee might have a go-to sob story
    about their situation, which they use to garner sympathy. But once emotional
    manipulation is revealed for what it is, it breeds distrust, and people who
    distrust one another can’t work well together. 
  • Internal
    Competition can be healthy and good within an organization,
    but it can also incentivize people to play dirty, undermining or sabotaging the
    efforts of others. Like emotional manipulation, competition can create
    distrust. People stop collaborating, communicating, and sharing their work.
  • Poor
    In some cases, issues develop between people in the workplace
    because an individual or a team isn’t getting their job done or doing it well.
    One person’s poor performance can be like the first in a line of dominos,
    leading to a chain reaction that eventually topples the whole operation.
    Distrust, resentment, anger, and other negative emotions are the result, and
    these feelings most certainly find expression—to friends at work in the form of
    gossip and often the offending party as a public scolding.


  • Build a
    platform for collaboration:
    Before people can resolve their differences,
    they often need to find an area of shared interest, so they have some common
    ground to build on. That might be an important project or quarterly earnings
    goal that can be used as a point of focus. If nothing else, help your employees
    see that everyone wants the organization to succeed in its mission. They may be
    more willing to compromise or give alternative ideas a try if they know everyone
    is truly working for the same purpose.
  • Address
    behavioral and performance problems:
    These issues should be addressed
    whether they’re causing conflicts or not, but especially if they’re creating
    office drama. Tolerating behavioral and performance problems, especially when
    they affect the work of your good performers, will only hasten your most
    talented employees out the door.
  • Teach
    people how to communicate clearly and effectively:
    Communication is a
    skill, and not everyone is good at it. Being able to communicate well takes
    more than an understanding of grammar and syntax. It also takes empathy,
    candor, an ability to read people and anticipate how they might perceive and
    react to what’s communicated. Perhaps most importantly, good communication
    skills require the ability to listen. If an employee doesn’t have these skills,
    then you need to teach them (or find someone who can). Your employees will be
    much more adept at working through conflicts if they know how to communicate.
  • Practice
    conflict resolution techniques:
    There’s no better way to develop and
    maintain skills than to practice them. Set aside time at a company offsite or
    team meeting to role-play different conflicts; you can call this “working
    through scenarios” if you think your team will bristle at the thought of
    acting. These practice sessions will give your employees an opportunity to work
    creatively through impasses without stress and frustration—and without
    hindering their work. They can then apply these skills to the real-life
    conflicts that will inevitably arise. 

In some cases, conflicting parties will not be able to
resolve their differences, and no resolution will please them. That’s life. You
don’t always get your way. And while you can’t—and shouldn’t—try to regulate
people’s feelings, you can and should set high standards for professional
behavior. But part of setting and enforcing those high standards will involve
managers and HR professionals stepping in, setting the scene for conflict
resolution, and accepting that the resolution might not always be comfortable.
It will, however, make the organization stronger.

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