Conflict is inevitable. No matter how hard you strive to cultivate harmony among your employees, clashes are bound to arise at some point. This human resources principle is true for 100% of businesses.

Rather than futilely attempting to avoid conflict altogether, it’s time to embrace a new perspective. Prepare yourself by asking, “How do we successfully confront workplace conflict when it happens?”

Key Principles for Effectively Addressing Workplace Conflict

Whenever we’re working with company leaders who are trying to address an area of conflict in their businesses, there are typically a few principles we encourage them to consider.

1. Identify How Critical the Conflict is to Your Business

When faced with workplace conflict, the first step is to assess how critical the conflict is to your business. Not all conflicts have the same impact, and distinguishing between minor disagreements and issues that can significantly hinder productivity or damage employee morale is essential. By understanding the potential ramifications of the conflict, company leaders can prioritize their efforts and allocate resources accordingly. This step involves objectively evaluating the conflict’s potential consequences, such as its effect on team dynamics, customer satisfaction, project timelines, or overall organizational goals. Identifying the impact this conflict could have on the business allows leaders to determine the appropriate level of attention and intervention required for resolution.

2. Consider the Basic Elements of Conflict Resolution

Addressing workplace conflict effectively requires a comprehensive understanding of the basic elements of conflict resolution. This involves equipping leaders with the tools and techniques necessary to facilitate productive dialogue, promote active listening, and encourage empathy among conflicting parties. By fostering an environment of open communication and mutual respect, leaders can help individuals express their concerns, needs, and perspectives constructively. Conflict resolution techniques such as mediation, negotiation, and compromise play vital roles in finding mutually beneficial resolutions. By embracing these elements, leaders can create an atmosphere conducive to resolving conflicts and restoring harmony within the workplace.

3. Managing Unresolvable Conflicts and Maintaining Control

Despite best efforts, there may be instances where a conflict remains unresolvable even after employing various conflict resolution strategies. In such cases, leaders must recognize that their primary focus should shift toward managing the conflict and minimizing its negative impact on the organization. While a complete resolution may not be possible, leaders can implement measures to mitigate the conflict’s escalation and preserve a functional work environment. This may involve setting clear boundaries, establishing effective communication channels, assigning temporary work arrangements, or even involving external resources, such as professional mediators or consultants. By proactively managing unresolvable conflicts, leaders can prevent them from becoming detrimental to employee morale, team dynamics, and overall organizational success.

Our human resources professionals can support your company leaders by helping you navigate workplace conflicts with a strategic approach, fostering a healthier and more productive work environment for all employees.

Common Types of Workplace Conflict 

Not all conflict is created equal, and as leaders and managers, it is crucial to grasp this fundamental principle. Failing to address conflicts appropriately can lead to severe consequences, including poor performance and misconduct issues that could jeopardize your business. Conversely, conflicts that initially appear detrimental may ultimately have a lesser impact. To navigate these complexities effectively, let’s explore four distinct types of employee conflicts that commonly arise in the workplace:

1. Informal Communication & Emotional Conflicts

Most of the everyday conflict that occurs between employees is caused by poor communication, misinformation, or a lack of emotional intelligence. For these types of issues, it’s valuable for leaders to have some basic conflict resolution skills to quickly and effectively address the conflict.

2. Formal Employee Complaints

Employee complaints consist of allegations of unfair treatment, unfavorable working conditions, and disputes between coworkers or employees and managers. These are the most common types of formal conflicts between employees.

3. Labor Relations

If you have employees who are part of a labor union, you might find yourself dealing with labor relations disputes. In these scenarios, your HR department should act as the liaison between such employees and the labor union.

4. Legal Allegations

If an employee should declare discrimination, harassment, or unfair treatment against their employer, such allegations fall under the responsibilities of the HR department. These serious issues do have the potential to ruin your business and should be taken very seriously by leaders and managers.

Keys to Dealing with Conflict

Once you’ve identified the level of severity of the conflict, you can better assess how to address it. Here are a few keys to dealing with those basic, everyday workplace conflicts:

1. Address the issue quickly

Workplace conflicts tend to escalate as time goes on. If you learn about a conflict between employees, you will likely minimize the overall impact if you address it quickly.

2. Encourage each person to try and understand the other person’s point of view

It is essential to try and understand the other person’s motivations to begin resolving a conflict. We maintain a defensive posture whenever we’re only seeing things from our point of view. Understanding the other person’s “What’s in it for me?” position is critical.

3. Gain clarity around the disagreement and a common goal

It’s important to make sure both parties are on the same page about what the specific disagreement is. Without gaining clarity about the specific conflict, it’s impossible to address it. Once the specific conflict is identified, it’s important to find a common goal that both sides can work on together. That commonality can be as simple as “both sides want to end the conflict.”

When to Seek Outside Help for Conflict Resolution

What do you do about those larger, more serious workplace conflicts that can’t be resolved in a single meeting? When should you get a third party involved in conflict resolution? Here are a few times we encourage leaders to consider seeking outside help with conflict resolution:

  • If there are potential legal issues involved, such as allegations of discrimination or harassment.
  • If your HR department doesn’t have the time or training to provide conflict resolution.
  • If there are patterns of recurring issues with an employee or employees.
  • If the incidents are becoming abusive or resemble bullying.
  • If a manager needs retraining that can’t be done in-house.

If you’ve identified a workplace conflict that needs to be addressed, don’t wait. And, if it’s a serious matter that could benefit from having help from a third-party, our team at LBMC EP can help. Connect with one of our professional human resource partners to learn how we can help you address conflict in the workplace, whether it’s a simple disagreement or a serious legal allegation.