Unavoidable but Manageable – Workplace Conflicts

The Careereon Blogging Team
March 29, 2024

No Business is Immune to Interpersonal Conflicts

Build Your Strategy to Minimize & Mitigate


Once a business starts to grow (beginning with the second person coming aboard), the subject of Conflict Resolution is sure to come up sooner than later. In those early stages where a business needs to grow, a few people are added initially, then a few more, and a few dozen more after that. Regardless of when, it is inevitable for personal conflicts to arise. While the top priority for any business is the quality and delivery of the products and services it provides, there are of course many other factors that will impact their ability to execute precisely to plan. A significant factor can be conflicts, whether individual or team and organizational conflicts.

Internal conflicts between teams and team members are not uncommon as we know, and the reasons run the gamut from the more significant issues around competitive strategy or product release, to simple personality conflicts within the team. What is important to recognize is that the reason for the conflicts is less important than is acknowledging that it exists and needs to be addressed. We have all likely seen how conflict causes workplace culture to fray, which can quickly lead to a lack of engagement and productivity from people whether involved in the conflict or not, and even extend to employee turnover if left unchecked. Such issues will not wait for a company to be fully established and built out to have the requisite human resources, or leadership, to whom we may turn to help deal with issues causing conflict.

Conflict Resolution is a skill and one that a good leader either brings to the table already or can develop through training, shadowing a mentor/expert in dealing with conflict, and by reading the great number of books and online resources that dig into the approach and tactics to resolve workplace conflicts.

Following these key steps is a good start for any newer leader, or for those who have little experience leading Conflict Resolution, but will need to, now or in the future.

Active Listening:

  • It may sound simplistic, or obvious, that as the person running point to resolve a workplace conflict, that ‘Listening’ is the first step, but it is not. While it is more commonly the first step in most places, it was not too long ago that ‘The Boss’ , or even an HR Lead, may simply get wind of a situation, and do all of the work behind the scenes on how they’ll resolve before having talked to the principles involved. Their reliance on experience in dealing with conflict may cause assumptions as to what is going on, what the solution is, as they begin to ‘resolve’ based on previous examples rather than the issues at hand. This is a huge mistake of course, as no two conflicts are the same (Insert ‘snowflake’ cliché here).
  • Speaking privately with those involved is the first and most important step, ensuring there will be an uninterrupted opportunity to meet. Gathering the first-hand accounts of a situation will not only provide the facts as the parties believe them to be, but you can also gauge the feelings and emotions beneath them. Listening with empathy, paraphrasing throughout ensure comprehension, and gives confidence to the person at conflict that they are being heard, and their feelings validated.

The demonstration of dedicating time, attention and genuine interest in the person and their issues can, itself, begin to de-escalate a situation and take you a closer to the resolution needed.

Collaboration and Compromise:

  • Not all conflicts are brought forward as direct complaints, necessitating intervention by others to open a case, or formally address. It can often be a team member or savvy leader who sees friction or discord between others and raises it to someone, hoping it can be mitigated before it escalates. These pre-conflict opportunities are valuable, as they can ward off future, serious, conflicts if handled swiftly and appropriately. Conflict can be a result of newer employees or newly merged groups coming together for a project, or more permanently due to reorganization. While some issues and potential conflicts naturally work themselves out as people get to know each other.
  • The sooner action is taken to bring parties together to expedite their understanding and comfort level with one another, the better. Leadership is key here, as they likely have a better understanding of the parties at conflict, and can look to create tasks or simple projects that call for the specific skills each party has that they can leverage, demonstrating to the other that they are competent and skilled, and gain mutual respect for one another. The time and effort given by each leads to the personalized experience that is often lacking, which likely led to the conflict, and creates far greater understanding, and can resolve a conflict before it is ‘officially’ a conflict.

Clear Communication:

  • If a business wants to avoid workplace conflict, or more realistically to minimize it, a proactive approach is imperative. Often it is poor communication at the heart of conflicts, and the better, stronger level of regular communication that exists will be a conflict pre-emptor. Having open communication channels where all team members feel comfortable to speak, express concerns, give feedback, and know they will be heard is a powerful tool. Having clearly defined roles and responsibilities removes the ambiguity of people stepping on one other, mostly unintentionally, due to a belief that their work extends to an area already covered by someone else.
  • It comes down the leaders within an organization knowing, mapping out, and communicating to all ‘who does what’, allowing for questions or suggestions to ensure the work gets done, as those involved are able to complete it successfully through a spirit of partnership.

EQ – Emotional Intelligence:

  • Not everyone reads the books and does the studies to have formal understanding of Emotional Intelligence, but its simplicity is something most people can quickly grasp, as it is a critical tool and approach for leading people and teams. Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in resolving conflicts effectively.
  • The ability to understand emotions, including our own and the emotions of those around is, is the first step of developing one’s Emotional Intelligence, or EQ. When we understand our own emotional state, we can work on self-management to present ourself in the best way possible. When we understand the emotional state of those around us we can empathize and determine the best approach to deal with them.
  • Whether we agree that they should be in whatever their emotional state they are exhibiting, is irrelevant. EQ is about understanding ourselves and others, and acting accordingly to focus on positive outcomes for all.

Mediation and Facilitation:

  • Despite our best efforts, applying all training and experience to resolve the most challenging issues, we cannot expect to resolve 100% of the conflicts that fall to us to resolve. When conflicts escalate, or the subject matter is beyond the expertise of those charged to manage, there are options to address. A trained mediator, which some HR Leaders often have such certification or training, is a good option. They can facilitate the discussion between the parties at conflict from a neutral perspective, in a safe and judgement free environment that guides the parties to a mutually agreeable solution.

Conflicts arise anywhere people gather and interact, which certainly includes the workplace. Thus, planning for how to manage conflicts, care for its employees, and provide for both business and employee continuity throughout is a business imperative. Through specific tactics on how to manage conflict, a business, and the teams and parties involved, can effectively resolve conflicts and strengthen the relationships within. The positive alternative to resolution is avoidance. Not all conflicts are avoidable, and no business is immune from conflict. But those businesses that dedicate time and resources to employee engagement efforts, team-building, open and safe communication practices, and deliver training on interpersonal communication and relating, including Emotional Intelligence, will always be better positioned to stay ahead of problems long before they arise.

‘An Ounce of Prevention…’


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