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Five Tips for Minimizing Disruptive Clashes Within the Workplace

By James Greenway on October 28, 2013

Some workplace disagreements are productive, offering an opportunity to consider different perspectives and discover new options.  Deeper unresolved conflicts, however, can bring productivity to a screeching halt.  The workplace is a melting pot of diverse personalities and multiple generations forged together to achieve a common goal.  Throw in some stress and it’s not surprising that clashes ignite.

Most workplace conflicts are quickly resolved without a significant impact on team productivity.  On occasion, however, individual employees or factions with a group holding differing viewpoints can make it challenging to find the common ground and harmony needed to achieve goals as a team.  Subsequently, an environment of dissention and dissatisfaction can grow.  While it may be tempting for a manager to let the situation “iron itself out,” failure to address conflicts can erode engagement efforts and damage team performance.

Here are five tips for managers to help minimize the negative impact of workplace conflict:

  1. Set expectations.  Employees should be clear on what constitutes acceptable workplace behavior and the consequences for noncompliance. Employees should also know the chain of command for reporting issues.
  2. Curb escalation. Identify abrasive or disruptive behavior before it escalates into a problem. Coach the individual(s) on how to modify behavior, reinforcing the value of collaboration and teamwork.
  3. Rotate seating.  Research indicates that an employee’s interaction with those working in immediate proximity accounts for 40-60 percent of daily interactions.  Periodic rotation of seating arrangements can quell personality clashes and encourage cross-functional communication. 
  4. Seek coaching. Talk the issue through with your own manager, a mentor or coach.  Conflict resolution is a key leadership competency that can be developed.  If you’re uncomfortable with confrontation yourself, role play responses to different reactions until you feel more confident in conducting conflict resolution sessions.
  5. Address conflicts. Conduct fact-finding meetings with individuals before convening all parties to mediate a resolution.  Keep the group focused on the topic at hand, use questions to invite solutions, paraphrase what’s being expressed for understanding, develop an action plan, and schedule a time for a follow-up meeting to assess progress.

Conflict is an inevitable by-product of relationships – both personal and professional.   Some workplace conflict is the natural, healthy outgrowth of divergent points of view, often leading to better problem solving and innovative ideas.  Other conflicts arise around a specific incident, and still others are related to work style and perceived performance.   Whatever the genesis, managers must be cognizant of departmental dynamics in order to identify potential problems, deliver appropriate coaching and, when necessary, mediate effective solutions.

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