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Clash to Calm: 5 Effective Ways to Smooth Workplace Tensions 

June 12, 2024

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Conflict can be a stressful thing for many leaders. But in any workplace, disagreements and misunderstandings are bound to happen. It’s just a normal part of human nature because people have different perspectives, ideas, and interests. How you deal with resolving conflict can hugely impact your team’s morale, productivity, and success.

The good thing is that these conflicts don’t have to be negative. Managing conflict well can spur innovation, improve relationships, and lead to better decisions. As a leader, it’s your job to build a culture where handling conflict is embraced as a chance for growth, not something to be feared.

Major Causes of Conflict in the Workplace

Understanding why conflicts happen at work helps you see where they come from, handle them better, and possibly stop them before they start.

Communication Breakdowns

Many conflicts at work stem from poor communication. When people aren’t clear about expectations, roles, or deadlines, it can cause frustration and resentment. This worsens when people have different communication styles—some are direct and assertive, while others are more indirect. When these styles clash, messages can get misunderstood, leading to conflict.

Competition for Resources

Sometimes, conflict arises from a scarcity of resources, be it time, budget, equipment, or even recognition. When team members feel they’re competing for these limited resources, it can create an “us vs. them” dynamic. This competitive atmosphere can lead to resentment and hinder collaboration

Unclear Roles and Responsibilities

When everyone isn’t sure what they’re supposed to do, they might do the same job or forget about things they think someone else is doing. Then, when jobs don’t get finished, or one person feels like they’re doing more work than others, it can cause conflicts. This happens a lot with new teams or when things change around.

Personality Clashes

Let’s face it, not everyone gets along perfectly. People’s personalities can clash at work, especially if they have very different ways of working or solving problems. Someone who likes to focus on every little thing might get frustrated by someone who’s more laid-back and the other way around. These personality differences can cause tension and fights in teams.

Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic or poorly communicated expectations from management or colleagues often fuel conflict. When employees face overwhelming workloads or unrealistic deadlines, they may feel overburdened or unappreciated. Similarly, unclear performance metrics can cause confusion and frustration when employees aren’t sure what defines success.

Unfair Treatment

Perceived unfair treatment, whether it’s true or not, can spark significant conflict. This might involve things like showing favoritism, unequal pay or promotions, or not giving credit where it’s due. When employees feel they’re not being treated fairly, it can tank morale, breed resentment, and eventually erupt into conflict.

Unresolved Past Issues

Previous conflicts that were not adequately addressed can fester and resurface later, creating tension and distrust within the team. It’s important to deal with conflict head-on and ensure issues are truly resolved to prevent them from poisoning the work environment in the future.

What Happens When You Ignore Conflict?

Ignoring conflicts can make things worse, like making teamwork harder and hurting how well the whole company does. Research shows that unresolved conflict leads to decreased productivity and morale among employees. For example, one study found that U.S. employees spend around 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflicts, which costs a lot of money and time – like hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of workdays gone every year.¹

And it’s not just about money. Ignoring problems can make people not want to come to work or even leave their jobs. Another study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that conflicts at work make people take more days off, and it can cause bigger problems like stress, mental issues, and even loss of sleep or heart palpitations.²

This doesn’t just hurt the people involved; it creates an unfavorable work environment that makes it challenging for everyone to work together. Sometimes, it can even hurt how people see the company, which makes it tough to find and keep good workers.

So, it’s important to manage conflict at work before it gets out of hand. That way, everyone can have a better time working together and get more done.

How to Handle Workplace Conflict: 5 Resolution Strategies

Dealing with conflict in the workplace needs a thoughtful approach that focuses on communication, empathy, and getting better over time. Since conflicts are bound to happen, the aim isn’t to make them vanish completely but to handle them in a way that helps the organization grow and employees improve.

1. Establish a Positive Foundation for Conflict Resolution

    Foster a company culture that sees conflict as a chance for improvement and new ideas, not just a problem. Start by laying out what’s expected in terms of how people should behave and communicate. Training sessions are great for teaching employees how to handle conflict well and communicate with understanding.

    Also, make sure everyone knows the company’s conflict management policies so they can deal with disagreements smoothly. With this approach, conflicts become less scary, and people feel more comfortable working through them positively.

    2. Encourage Open Communication

      Effective communication is the cornerstone of conflict resolution. Build an atmosphere where team members can freely share their thoughts and feelings without worrying about backlash. You can achieve this by holding regular meetings and open forums where employees are encouraged to speak openly about their concerns.

      Leaders play a vital role in this by demonstrating active listening, showing genuine interest, and understanding by summarizing what’s been said and asking open-ended questions to clear up any confusion. This approach not only helps solve current conflicts but also fosters trust and openness, preventing misunderstandings in the future.

      3. Put Structured Conflict Resolution Processes in Place

        Approach conflict in the workplace with a clear plan. One good approach is the “Interest-Based Relational Approach.” This method looks at what they both need. Then you help them brainstorm solutions that meet those needs and then work together to find a solution.

        It’s important to make sure everyone feels like they’re being listened to and treated fairly. This way, not only do you solve the current problem, but you also build stronger relationships by showing everyone’s interests matter and by working together to find solutions.

        4. Mediate Conflicts Fairly and Impartially

          In some situations, direct communication between conflicting parties may prove unproductive, so a mediator needs to step in. The mediator’s job is to guide a productive discussion between the people involved, helping them see each other’s viewpoints and find a solution.

          It’s important for the mediator to have sufficient conflict resolution skills so they can stay neutral and not pick sides. They make sure everyone gets a fair chance to talk and keep the conversation respectful. Bringing in trained mediators or teaching staff how to mediate can be a big help, especially in serious conflicts.

          5. Learn from Conflicts to Improve Organizational Practices

            View each conflict as a chance to learn and improve. Instead of just fixing the problem, take time to figure out why it happened and what lessons can be taken from it. After it’s resolved, gather everyone involved to talk about what worked and what could be better next time.

            Also, look at patterns in conflicts to spot bigger problems like unclear roles or communication issues. By addressing these underlying issues, you can stop future conflicts before they start.

            BUILD YOUR IDEAL WORKFORCE WITH SKILLED PROFESSIONALS FROM SPECTRA360

            Finding suitable candidates with conflict management training who can join your team on short notice and blend in seamlessly can be a real challenge, not to mention time-consuming and expensive. But that’s where we come in.

            We have access to a huge pool of resumes and can sift through them, interview candidates, and narrow down the list to find the perfect fit for your project. Whether you need temporary or contract employees, from entry-level to experienced, we’ve got you covered in logistics, manufacturing, warehousing, and administration roles.

            Reach out to our support team today, and we’ll kick off the process of finding the ideal addition to your team right away!

            References

            1. “New Study Details Both Crippling and Beneficial Effects of Workplace-Conflict on Businesses” CPP, Inc., 6 Oct. 2008, shop.themyersbriggs.com/PRESS/Workplace_Conflict_Study.aspx.
            2. “Managing conflict in the modern workplace” CIPD, Jan. 2020, www.cipd.org/globalassets/media/knowledge/knowledge-hub/reports/managing-conflict-in-the-workplace-2_tcm18-70655.pdf.

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