Resolving Conflict at Work: How to Disagree Productively

In the workplace, it can sometimes be difficult for colleagues to maintain a professional composure. While this usually manifests as small annoyances and petty disagreements, workplace conflicts can turn into much bigger problems. Workplace conflict resolution experts at the University of Oklahoma estimate that managers spend at least 25% of their working hours attempting to resolve issues between coworkers. This egregious waste of time has a negative impact on overall productivity and profits.

Why is conflict resolution in the workplace so important to productivity? What tactics can disagreeing coworkers use to diffuse conflict before it affects the entire office? What roles do communication and self-regulation play in resolving workplace conflicts?

How Conflict Affects Productivity

From petty squabbles to threats of physical violence, workplace conflicts often affect more than just the people who are directly involved.

  • Arguing and verbal disagreements distract coworkers from their tasks, making it difficult to concentrate.
  • Lack of cooperation between feuding coworkers places unnecessary burdens on those who are trying to accomplish their goals.
  • Managers spend more time with fighting workers, which takes away time that could be used to train and encourage others.
  • Violent behaviors make others feel unsafe, which can compromise their ability to do their job effectively.

In a situation where coworkers are actively disagreeing, their colleagues suffer as well. It is in the best interest of the entire staff to diffuse uncomfortable situations quickly.

Techniques to Reduce the Damage from Workplace Conflicts

When a conflict arises, managers can use these tips to quickly contain the situation and keep others from feeling the blowback.

  • Get the facts. Pull the opposing parties to the side one at a time. Get details on each version of the story. Ask questions about where the initial incident took place, who may have witnessed it, and what actually happened before bringing both parties together to discuss a resolution.
  • Maintain an objective mindset. Resist the urge to make snap judgments based on previous interactions. Each situation is unique and deserves a fresh approach. Making quick and unsubstantiated decisions contributes to frustration that can actually intensify existing conflicts.
  • Watch for logical fallacies. When emotions run high, reason is often one of the first victims. One of the most common responses to conflict is for the aggressor to take the argument presented by another and twist it into a mostly unrelated conclusion. This is why it’s so important to get both sides of the story at separate meetings.
  • Find the good. Conflict isn’t always bad. Sometimes strong emotions arise when one coworker feels that another isn’t pulling their weight or living up to their full potential. Fights between coworkers may actually signal an opportunity for training that could boost the performance of all employees.
  • Find common ground. Whether the problem is personal or professional, the best way to short-circuit negative emotions is to get the parties to agree on something. Find one thing that motivates them both and get them to agree to focus on that rather than the perceived problem.

It's essential to tackle workplace conflicts as soon as they arise. Negative emotions that are left unaddressed can warp and evolve into something far worse, which can catalyze more unwanted incidents. When a solution is found, put it in writing for more official weight.

Calm Communication: The Key to Diffusing Workplace Drama

In the fight against counterproductive conflict, communication is your most powerful tool. However, how things are said is just as important as what is said. As a mediator, staying calm is essential to the resolution process. What makes calm communication such an important part of mediating workplace conflicts?

  • As the manager, employees look to you for cues on what constitutes acceptable behaviors. By maintaining a calm demeanor, you are nonverbally encouraging other people to do the same. This makes conducting conversations much more fruitful and reduces unproductive back-and-forth.
  • Your irritation can exacerbate existing conflicts. Schedule delays and other negative side effects of the argument may annoy you. However, giving voice to that irritation is only likely to make feuding coworkers go silent in an attempt to keep their jobs. Once they leave your office, the conflict will continue. In these cases, you lose the chance to resolve the issue.
  • The root of many conflicts is the feeling of not being fully heard. By prioritizing effective and meaningful communication, those feelings are reduced. Simply listening and validating is sometimes enough to end problems.

One way to avoid conflict altogether is to establish a communication routine. Consider scheduling periodic meetings to allow employees to air grievances in a safe place. While it’s important for you to listen to your concerns, it’s also important that you take action to address them.

Communication is a skill. Learn more ways to reduce workplace conflict and safeguard productivity with management courses from Infotec.

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