Managing Employees

4 Strategies for Reducing Workplace Conflict

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Whenever people are required to work together, conflict is likely to arise. Regardless of how compatible members of a team might be, each individual brings along distinct priorities and a unique personality.  

AtTask’s “The State of Enterprise Work” report released in October discovered 81 percent of more than 2,000 American adults surveyed experienced workplace conflict with other departments, groups, teams, or co-workers. As a result, 4 out of 10 respondents reported a loss in productivity. 

Workplace conflict is a problem that I believe employers should address immediately if they want to create more productive organizations. Here are four ways to do so:

Related: Conflict Among Team Members Can Lead to Better Results

1. Set workplace-conflict guidelines.

In an August 2013 study by Workplace Options, 84 percent of 427 working Americans polled said they talk with their co-workers about job-related problems. Workplace Options also discovered personality clashes and poor communication are top causes of workplace conflict.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that employers are doing very little to resolve workplace conflict. Thirty-five percent of the poll respondents said their employer doesn’t have a formal complaint process. One-third of the respondents said they go to their supervisor if a conflict arises and another third immediately directly address the person causing the friction.

Although it’s great for employees to feel empowered to address conflict on their own, they need to be able to bring such issues to managers. Establish guidelines for resolving workplace conflict. Include steps to follow when reporting the conflict, the actions to take and how to prevent the conflict from reoccurring.

2. Train managers as mediators.

In my opinion, most managers aren’t well versed in effectively handling conflict. In fact, many managers ignore conflict and tell their employees to just deal with it. 

Forty-seven percent of the 740 respondents surveyed for FairWay Resolution’s "Conflict in New Zealand Workplaces Study" released in August said they went to their managers to resolve a conflict. Only half of those respondents, however, were satisfied with their manager’s reaction.

Instead of ignoring conflict, managers need to know how to address such situations and help employees regain focus. Train managers to become mediators in conflicts and provide them with negotiation skills. These skills will help managers become better listeners and more empathetic toward employees.

Related: Rampant Bullying Found Across Workplaces

3. Eliminate gender bias.

Without realizing it, managers and employees reinforce stereotypes about gender when dealing with conflict. A study of 152 Pacific Northwest employees published in the Journal of Management in June found a majority said they believe a conflict between two men will blow over faster than strife between two women. (The study was titled "Sisters At Arms: A Theory of Female Same-Sex Conflict and Its Problematization in Organizations.")

To overcome this challenge, educate managers about workplace biases about women, such as stereotypes suggesting they're more argumentative than men. Instead of pointing fingers at specific people or calling attention to their gender, focus on the problem at large. Hold each person accountable for his or her actions and find a solution that will prevent the problem from happening again.

4. Clarify priorities.

Miscommunication perhaps causes the most workplace conflict. Twenty-nine percent of the respondents from the AtTask study said they believed conflicting priorities are the # 1 source of workplace conflict. Additionally, 64 percent of the respondents cited too an abundance of confusion about who’s supposed to be doing which specific tasks or duties.

To clarify priorities in the workplace, use project-management software to eliminate confusion about deadlines and priorities. Employers should also clearly define roles of employees and managers to be sure everyone is on the same page.

How do you reduce workplace conflict?

Related: The Art of Having a Productive Argument