Disagreements, differences of opinion and conflicting perspectives on key issues inevitably arise in any context where people are working together. Whilst not all conflict is negative – creative solutions and new ideas can often emerge from the cut and thrust of debate – conflict can frequently become destructive.
For example, negative emotions may be stirred up poisoning the atmosphere, undermining morale, creating stress, and destroying workplace relationships. Ultimately, this is likely to have an adverse effect on performance. If ignored, conflict can escalate or spread to affect others.
Furthermore, if conflicts are not resolved, the situation may deteriorate, leading to litigation and damaging the organisation’s reputation.
Conflict can be costly in terms of time and money. It is therefore vital to manage conflict constructively.
Conflict may be between managers and their staff, between team members, departments, or managers. Conflict may be expressed openly, but it may also be hidden, in the form of irritation, resentment, loss of morale and lack of commitment. Hidden conflict is easy to miss and therefore can be particularly damaging. If nothing is done to address the underlying issues, conflict may escalate – from gossip, backbiting and criticism to shouting matches, threats, and possible violence.
Such consequences can often be prevented by taking early action to address the issues.
This guide focuses on steps for handling interpersonal conflict at work.
There are numerous types of conflict although the main ones are usually characterized as task conflict, relationship conflict, and values conflict. Task conflict often arises with different approaches to work assignments, resource allocation, quality issues, and interpretations of policies and procedures. Relationship conflict can stem from personality clashes, differences of opinion, biases, or perceptions of unfair treatment. Values conflict can occur when there are fundamental differences in culture, morals and ethical behaviour, approaches to decision making, or appropriate behavior amongst others.
Conflict becomes apparent when differences lead to disagreements, arguments and struggles between people.
Here is a checklist for you to consider:
- Be aware of conflict
- Take a considered and rational approach to conflict
- Investigate the situation
- Decide how to tackle the conflict
- Let everyone have their say
- Identify options and agree on a way forward
- Implement what has been agreed
- Evaluate how things are going
- Consider preventative strategies for the future
Whatever you do you should not
• ignore signs of growing conflict among team members
• jump to conclusions about the source of conflict before investigating thoroughly
• show bias towards any party regardless of previous history
• launch in too early or pre-empt discussion by imposing your own solution