Do you have conflict in the workplace? Employees not getting along? Workplace conflict can result in increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, formal complaints and staff turnover. You’d be surprised too (or maybe you won’t be!) to learn that the starting point of most conflict is almost always cause by something quite small.

Conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. Workplaces are made up of people and people by their very nature have different personalities, values, work styles and personal challenges which can all cause conflict in the workplace. The key to managing conflict is to address it early and in a way that will allow all parties to move forward in a positive manner.

Not all conflict is bad. In fact, we wouldn’t want to remove all conflict from the workplace. Positive and constructive conflict indicates a healthy workplace. This means that you have employees who have different views on a topic or on how a problem should be resolved. This type of conflict can allow the status quo to be challenged and new ideas to be formed. It can challenge us to rethink our own perceptions and break through to new and innovative ground. A workplace that allows and encourages healthy conflict conducted in a respectful manner is most likely a high performing workplace.

But if you’ve opened this blog or found it through Googling “conflict in the workplace” then chances are that you are experiencing the other type of conflict. The disruptive, unproductive and sometimes destructive workplace conflict. This type of conflict can stem from:

Personality Clashes

All workplaces are made up of different personalities. Some of these will be complementary straight off the bat and others will clash. Personality clashes can be some of the most destructive as people start to pigeon-hole each other and each small infraction is noted and added to the ‘scoreboard’. All is not lost. All personalities can work together, it just takes understanding, acceptance and communication. Our Dealing with Different Personalities at Work blog provides some helpful tips on resolving personality clashes.

Poor Communication

The most common starter of conflict. Lack of communication, different communication styles, misunderstandings and rumours can all lead to misunderstandings between employees. Conflict caused by poor communication often results in passive aggressive behaviour, increases in rumours and gossiping, a loss of productivity and the conflict being driven underground, bubbling away.

Different Values

People are the sum of their upbringing, cultures, values and belief systems which can all impact the values they bring into the workplace. Conflict arises when these values conflict. An older worker may place value in a more traditional workplace where work is conducted in traditional hours, meetings are scheduled and the organisation follows a hierarchical structure. A millennial however may want to embrace a more fluid, flexible and flat organisational structure. These differing values have the potential to create conflict when one feels the other isn’t respecting their values. Managing different generations can be challenging but there are ways to do it successfully.

Different work style / interests

Some people like to work on their own, some in a team, some like background noise and some quiet. Some people like to hit the ground running on a project, other like to take their time and plan it out. Some people will be motivated by ‘being seen’ on a project and others will be motivated by getting the job done. All of these differences can lead to conflict in the workplace. By identifying and understanding people’s work styles and interests then strategies can be implemented that is accepting of all styles and interests.

Scarce Resources

When employees don’t feel that they have enough or the same access to information, the manager, or physical resources or even time then conflict can arise. Conflict can also arise if an employee feels that someone else is negatively impacting on their ability to manage these resources, i.e. someone’s failure to submit a report on time impacts on another employee’s ability to submit their data on time. By analysing workflow practices, resources and communicating deliverables, these types of conflicts can be resolved and/or avoided.

Poor Performance

When it is perceived (justified or not) that one or more individuals are not performing or that the workload is not fairly distributed then conflict arises. This is especially common between members of the same team or between an employee and manager. The poor performance or the perception of inequality needs to be addressed quickly. Otherwise, it could result in other employees decreasing their productivity (“Why should I work harder than them? If they can get away with it, so should !?”). Or in the case of it being between an employee and manager then it will breed resentment, insubordination and/or the resignation of the team member.

So how do you handle workplace conflict?

The first and most vital step of fixing workplace conflict is to address it early. Quite often managers will ignore it in the hope that it will resolve itself and go away without any intervention from them. Unfortunately, in most cases the opposite occurs. Left unaddressed the conflict simmers away until one or all of the party’s bubble over and what started as a small issue is now a red-hot smouldering mess that has not only impact the initial parties but also others in the team.

By addressing the issues early, its easy to find out what the root cause of the conflict is. Once you know if it is a personality clash, perceived poor performance or conflict arising out of scarcity of resources then steps can be taken to rectify the issues.

Addressing conflict can seem daunting so if you need help in knowing what steps to take then give us a call first to talk through your options. Just remember, the worst thing you can do is do nothing. Inaction may mean a formal grievance or your best staff leaving. Addressing conflict, whilst daunting, can provide an opportunity to build a stronger, healthier team by increasing communication and understanding amongst your people. Contact us if you would like more information about how HR Maximised can help you resolve conflict in your workplace.