We have all experienced conflicts in a professional setting. In a way, they are part of the normal functioning of things. However, they can degenerate and poison the life of certain employees, a team or even the entire company. But how to resolve them? How to deal with conflicts at work? Here are some explanations…
Why do conflicts arise? The causes can be very different.
First of all, they are likely to have a “personal” dimension. For example, it may be a conflict of values (when two or more individuals disagree with the principles, morals or political views of their colleagues) or interpersonal conflict (when these individuals have radically opposed communication styles or ways of working). Or, they may stem from a hierarchical context resulting in a deteriorated relationship between superiors and colleagues. Finally, the causes of the conflict are potentially linked to “deviant behaviors” when a person seeks to impose his influence or, worse, practices a form of moral harassment.
Understanding the conflict is the beginning of solving it.
Identifying the nature of a conflict and the different ways in which individuals behave in these situations is an essential first step towards resolving conflict in the workplace. In the 1970’s, the Thomas-Kilmann method identified 5 typical behaviors in case of conflict:
- Accommodation, where one person gives in to the other.
- Competition, where one person tries to dominate the other.
- Avoidance, where one pretends that the conflict does not exist
- Collaboration, where one seeks to “work with the other” to solve the problem.
- Compromise, where we try to find a solution quickly.
It is important to understand the origin of the conflict in order to find the right solution to resolve it. Generally, the conflict at work often comes from a very different personality between two people which will cause a conflict of values and conflictual reactions.
The most important thing to know about how to manage conflict at work is to never take sides in a conflict. Each individual has his or her own feelings and emotions, and it is important to understand the root cause of the conflict. You must therefore be an excellent mediator, a fair referee who is there to find a solution that suits both people with the common goal of bringing these people together or at least succeeding in making them live together. This is ideal to have a healthy team cohesion and a great workplace.
React quickly before the conflict develops.
Now that we know the potential reactions of individuals to a conflict at work, we must apply a fundamental rule: reactivity. Often, a conflict results from a complicated or tense situation that has been going on for some time. A trigger (an event that may be harmless or serious) has transformed the unease into a confrontation.
When this conflict is declared, it is advisable to say things clearly and to try to quickly analyze the causes in order to find ways to resolve it. A meeting between the people involved in the conflict, possibly under the supervision of a “neutral” person (a human resources person, a colleague or a superior), is essential. This reactivity is essential to deal with conflicts at work in the future.
Initiate discussion: Communication is the key to resolving conflict in the workplace.
Effective communication is certainly the best way to resolve a conflict at work. But be careful, this exchange must be constructive!
The right attitude consists first of all in letting emotions pass, especially negative emotions such as anger, aggressiveness, resentment,… It is better to give people a few hours to relax than to confront them when they are overwhelmed by their emotions.
During the interview, the objective is to stick to the facts. Whether you are a party to the conflict or an observer, summarize the different events and try to get initial buy-in around these factual elements.
From there, you can move on to the “interpretations” section. This is the time to let people speak: how did they experience a decision? How did they perceive a behavior? This is also the moment when people will use the “I” and free themselves of a weight. Thus, things are said and it becomes possible to clarify the situation with protagonists who will put themselves in the place of the other. This empathy is the royal road to compromise and to a serene and constructive conflict management at work.
Talk to your team.
Meeting with each member of your team can provide you with elements that you had not taken into account and allow you to a better understanding of the conflict situation. You will then know how to deal with conflicts at work more often.
It is important that the individuals involved in the conflict feel heard, understood and that they can express themselves freely and without judgment about the situation. Plan relevant questions that will allow the situation to evolve and the exchange to be more constructive.
Once everyone’s points of view have been heard, organize a meeting between the people involved in the conflict. The purpose of the confrontation is to re-establish trust and dialogue between these people.
Your role? You make sure that everyone hears what the other has to say. The meeting should be a new beginning and a new understanding between the individuals.
During the conflict stay in a professional frame.
This is a very important point, because in order to know how to manage a conflict at work, it is essential to know how to put aside the emotional side. This will allow you to keep an objective eye. Also be careful not to let the interlocutors enter into personal attacks, it could get out of hand.
During the management of the conflict: Valorize the successes & professional skills.
While resolving a conflict at work, it is hard to stay positive. Yet it is one of the keys to how to deal with conflicts at work. Try recalling successes experienced together in the past. Or actions carried out as a team that have been fruitful.
The fact that the employees’ professional skills are valued will give a positive energy to the conflict management meeting. The climate will therefore be less hostile and more open to discussion.