Conflict management in the workplace: steps not to skip!

Conflicts in the workplace are commonplace: they're part and parcel of corporate life. However, we mustn't trivialize them, or let them take hold. Some can be more difficult to resolve than others, poisoning the lives of some employees because the atmosphere is less serene and employees less efficient. The causes of conflict are diverse, as are their nature and intensity. So how do you solve and manage them?

Conflict management in the workplace: what to do about it?

Conflicts in the workplace

Conflict is a complex and sometimes painful situation, often involving several employees. Conflicts at work are not uncommon: differences of opinion, disagreements over work methods or pressure to meet targets. Especially as you can’t choose your colleagues, and you have to deal with every personality. The way in which the conflict is handled is crucial in determining what happens next. It’s worth noting that very often positive things can come out of resolving a conflict.

In 2020, 89% of French employees have already experienced a conflict that has escalated!

Understanding conflict in the workplace

Conflict is part and parcel of working life. It needs to be sorted out fairly quickly, as it’s dangerous to let it fester. Depending on how it is managed, its effects can be either constructive or destructive. Conflict is neither good nor bad in itself, and its consequences can be positive, encouraging cooperation, or negative, creating a harmful climate.

The HR function spends 1 day a month managing conflicts in the workplace!

Keeping it professional

To know how to manage conflict at work, you have to put aside the emotional side of things. This allows us to keep an objective eye on things. It’s imperative not to let interlocutors get into personal attacks, as this could get out of hand.

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Different types of workplace conflict

Generation conflicts

They go back to the dawn of time: old people are old-fashioned, young people don’t care about anything! In addition to the usual differences, there’s the relationship with technology, which has developed rapidly in recent years. Times are changing, and sparks are flying. It’s worth noting that seniors have a vertical vision of hierarchy, unlike younger people, who often mix the private and the professional. The key is to understand who you are and who the other person is, in order to work better together.

French managers receive little training in conflict management.

Personality conflicts

Some personality types are irreconcilable, but employees can still work together without conflict. The key? Demonstrate empathy and understanding. In such cases, it’s a good idea to encourage those concerned to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and to set judgments aside. These are often ego problems. It’s vital for HR to pay particular attention to the candidate’s personality in the recruitment process.

Conflicts of interest

Whether it’s for a bonus, pay rise or promotion, power struggles do exist within companies. When a rivalry reaches this stage, it’s cause for concern. The interests of each group or individual diverge.

Structural conflicts

This type of conflict is linked to hierarchies and roles, salaries and work spaces. They are not to be taken lightly, as they may become established over time.

Conflicting values

They are more sensitive because they are intimate and connected to the individuals themselves. They cover religious beliefs, philosophies of intervention and presence at work, and ways of working. Generally speaking, any conflict involving profoundly opposed values is unlikely to find a positive outcome.

It's important to distinguish between major and minor conflicts.

Anticipating conflict in the workplace

Preventing devastating tensions

Knowing how to anticipate conflicts has become an important factor in maintaining good working relationships through proactive behavior. Identifying misunderstandings and any palpable tensions is essential. Regular feedback and active listening to employees are two ways of achieving this. Active listening consists of using one’s full attention to understand the totality of what another person is experiencing.
The aim is to communicate more effectively and identify what’s really important to everyone involved.

Defusing conflict

The statistics on conflicts in the workplace have been growing steadily in recent years. To effectively combat conflict, we need to improve employees’ working conditions and provide them with better day-to-day support, because no one can really flourish in a company where the atmosphere and environment are deleterious.

The introduction of tools to facilitate interpersonal communication (mailboxes, for example) will help to develop recognition between peers, and will be a powerful driver for boosting team understanding and performance. The creation of a free discussion area to encourage people to speak out and exchange views on difficult subjects can be an asset. These good practices kill conflicts and also reduce stress at work by eliminating the unspoken. Building a benevolent, reassuring environment helps prevent conflict. Similarly, giving recognition to each individual is a powerful way of acknowledging an employee’s strengths and demonstrating confidence.

Think metacommunication

It’s the art of communicating about communication. It’s a beneficial conflict management tool. It gives you a lot of information about what’s at stake in an exchange, and enables you to position yourself in line with the person in front of you. It makes explicit what is implicit and makes exchanges more fluid. Metacommunication means reformulating what I wanted to say is that “but also by explaining and justifying why”. if I tell you this, it’s because I… “. This provides an opportunity to step back, better understand each other and regulate exchanges.

There are 2 types of metacommunication:

  • Explicit and verbal: this involves giving clear indications of the desired way of working with the other person;
  • Implicit and non-verbal: includes all elements associated with speech: tone, smile, facial expression…

It gives us a lot of information on the issues at stake and enables us to position ourselves in line with the person in front of us.

Intervene in the conflict

The key to successful conflict management in the workplace is impartiality. A well-managed conflict strengthens employees’ relational intelligence and mutual trust. In all cases, the aim is non-violent communication between the two employees to help them understand each other better. It’s vital not to take sides, and to go beyond the reasoning of who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s worth noting that managing a conflict alone can be tricky. Involving a third party is often essential to resolving a conflict in the long term, and the right person to talk to depends on the nature of the conflict.

Post-conflict stage

After a confrontation, letting go of the pressure is a must. We need to analyze the conflict, understand what’s at stake and why. By analyzing the genesis of the latter, we can better understand whether it’s a simple misunderstanding or a deeper problem. Nevertheless, reconciling belligerents is not always easy. So it’s important to recreate the link between the protagonists: bring them together and remind them of the team’s raison d’être! Evoke the importance of individual missions to achieve objectives, to give yourself a perspective. Egos have to take a back seat to the challenges ahead. To strengthen the sense of cohesion, create groups to work on cross-functional projects such as organizing fun activities or improving the quality of life at work.

8 out of 10 employees have been the active protagonists or mere witnesses of a conflict in the workplace.

Is it possible to prevent conflict in the workplace?

Unfortunately not! Nevertheless, they can be quickly resolved if they are managed in good time. Solving them is good, anticipating them is even better! Conflicts in the workplace are there to be overcome. A positive approach will transform conflict into an opportunity for dialogue, and perhaps even an engine for creativity.

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To sum up

En 3 Questions

  • How do you manage conflict at work?

    It’s best to act coldly and explain things calmly. So only actions can be blamed, rather than character traits. Being as factual as possible will help ease tensions. Things also need to be put into context.

  • What are the different types of conflict in the workplace?

    The sources of conflict in the workplace are diverse, and major conflicts must be differentiated from minor ones. There are as many types of conflict in the workplace as there are ways of dealing with them. To resolve it properly, it’s essential to quickly identify the nature of the conflict.

  • How do you anticipate conflict in the workplace?

    The best way to prevent risks in the workplace is to give everyone involved a voice. So don’t forget to organize a meeting to ensure that all the key players are present. A referee’s posture will do rather than a judge’s.