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Managing Conflict in the Workplace

According to the American Institute of Stress, the second highest cause of stress in the workplace is “people issues”. The prevalence of stress and conflict in the workplace can take a toll on an organization’s productivity and workplace happiness. The Harvard Gazette reports 36 percent of workers are stressed, which ends up costing U.S. businesses $30 billion annually in lost work days.

Effectively managing workplace conflict is an important responsibility that organizational leaders must often address. Conflict could arise at any time among peers, managers and senior executives. Therefore, training and development professionals (T&D) employ conflict resolution skills to create internal processes that will identify and mitigate conflict. Being proactive is essential to combating conflict that may undermine team efforts and impact customer satisfaction. 

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Causes of Conflict in the Workplace

Every employee brings their own personal perspectives into the workplace, which can cause misunderstandings and personality clashes to occasionally occur. The Society for Human Resource Management cites a study that determined people take comments or actions personally about 70 percent of the time, so even when employees and managers believe everything is going smoothly, tension may be building.

Among the reasons why conflict arises are:

  • Generational differences: A baby boomer not understanding or respecting a millennial's work approach – or vice-versa
  • Lack of leadership: Involving ineffective communication or poor listening skills
  • Unfilled needs: Workers don’t feel empowered, recognized or respected
  • Workload pressures and stress: Effects moods and shapes of how people interact with one another

Many of these sources of conflict will inevitably occur, but effective training and communication methods can help prevent conflict from escalating.

Conflict Resolution Skills and Methods

Managing conflict in the workplace starts with acknowledging that, occasionally disagreements, both large and small, will occur. It is important for employees to understand how to deal with tense work situations and maintain productive relationships and a comfortable work environment.

To proactively address conflict, T&D professionals may conduct workshops where employees engage in role-playing exercises to enhance their communication and listening skills. Additional, training around sensitivity and diversity can also be effective in managing conflict to instill empathy and encourage employees to consider others’ perspectives. According to a 2015 research report by the Society for Human Resource Management, respectful treatment of employees at all levels is the top contributor to overall employee job satisfaction.

In addition, T&D professionals may collaborate with organizational leaders who play an important role in establishing a cohesive, unified team. By simply giving clear direction to employees, leaders can improve understanding, alleviate frustration and avoid conflict among employees. In the book Stop Spending, Start Managing: Strategies to Transform Wasteful Habits, authors Leigh Thompson and Tanya Menon discuss the value of forgoing a hands-off approach in lieu of a more direct leadership approach to address conflict in the workplace. 

Even when attempts are made to proactively address potential areas of conflict, tensions may still arise. Once conflict is identified, organizational leaders should use move quickly to diffuse the problem so tensions do not escalate and affect other employees, while also being respectful to all parties through active listening and understanding.

Want to Know More?

Conflict can be managed and resolved. Training and development professionals play an important role in creating a culture of strong leadership, effective communication and trust among employees.

Interested in learning more about the training and development field? Download Lewis University’s free guide to learn more about how an online or on-campus Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership can prepare you for a rewarding career in organizational leadership. 

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