Tips for reducing conflict at work

Conflict at work is inevitable. The environment brings together many different attitudes, aspirations and even cultures. We can often conflict with others who see their desire to achieve compromised by our desire to achieve. Our tips for reducing conflict at work may be easier to preach than to practice but by giving attention to them we can help to reduce conflict.

Encourage mental fitness

People handle conflict less emotionally when they are relaxed and there are ways in which employers can encourage this:

  • Regular breaks – I sometimes ask “where did the lunch hour go?” As a young manager I regularly took a lunchtime walk, often with other managers.
  • Walking meetings are themselves an option and popular with the late Steve Jobs.
  • Regular holidays – Holidays benefit employers as well as employees when the latter come back refreshed.
  • Encourage sports activities – as well as marathons there are many activities such as cycling challenges, raft races, and fitness challenges in which employees can participate and, if in teams, it is good for team-building too (another conflict-reducer).

When conflict arises

Seek first to understand (then to be understood)
Whether it is a difference of opinion about how to achieve an objective, or a disciplinary interview, first understanding the other person’s viewpoint, experience or fears will go a long way towards reducing conflict. It calms the other party while providing you with information that may assist in any resolution.

Listen

Obviously this is a route to understanding. Active listening is far more difficult than simply hearing what the person has to say. You need to be able to ask pertinent exploratory questions and resist the temptation to correct or interrupt. Repeating back your understanding of what you believe they are saying can help as a check on your listening and understanding.

Identify interests

Often we adopt “positions” as in “my position on this is…”. A better line is: “my interest lies in…” or even “what do you see as your interest in these circumstances?”

Imagine the conflict is on a stage with you in the audience

If you are able to take yourself out of the immediate emotion of the situation it is often easier to see the reality more clearly.

Return to the facts

Sometimes the facts get lost in the argument. If you don’t have all the necessary facts then, in a meeting, may be time to adjourn. Of course, facts are not always available to meet every situation.

If you’ve made a mistake, admit it

The fear of being wrong is a recipe for conflict, especially when we are wrong!

Workplace conflict should not be side-stepped but reducing, and especially resolving it, moves a business forward.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

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