Best Practices for Handling Workplace Conflicts

Not unlike bickering children, workplace conflicts are bound to occur. Just how they play themselves out – a full-blown feud or friendly handshakes in the end – depends a lot on the people handling the situation.
Yet, as the person in charge, a manager can do much to set the stage for handling conflicts as they arise and avoid the need to intervene when things become too heated.
Common red flags of workplace conflict include: individuals who think they are always right, refusing to listen to the opinions of others; arguments stemming from limited resources (“I was at the copier first”); misunderstandings (the cause of most conflicts); and power struggles.
Tact is important when trying to resolve conflicts. Yelling is never advised. Speak to the worker calmly and explain that his or her behavior is having a negative effect on the job performance and that the employee needs to do something about it. Remind the person know that  he or she is part of a team and that you want to avoid a full-blow conflict taking place.
Saying the right thing is also important. Avoid biting words and statements that can exacerbate a situation and possibly ignite a verbal altercation. Soft words can get the job done easily with less friction.
When something does occur, make sure everyone understands what the issue is and why an argument has sprung up. Talk things over so that everyone understands what the problem is. Allow each person an opportunity to explain his or her position about the problem. Workers need to believe they are free to express their thoughts in these situations.
Next, define what an ideal solution might be from each person’s perspective. You might find that the feuding parties are not that far apart as to a resolution. Then determine what can realistically be done to achieving the individual goals.
If there needs to be a compromise, try to identify elements of the issue that all can agree upon. Otherwise, explain long-term goals that have relevance to all parties and start from that point.
Since no one is born with ideal mediating skills, it helps to be aware of the triggers that can spark a conflict in the first place. Some preventative measures include: bringing issues out in the open before they become a problem; have a process in place so that conflicts may be dealt with in a timely fashion; be aware of things that can trigger a conflict and immediately respond to them when they occur; teach workers conflict resolution skills; discourage gossip; make sure expectations are realistic and consistent with job descriptions; and make sure workers understand their job descriptions, responsibilities and expectations.
Likewise, don’t hesitate to praise employees for their accomplishments. Individuals who feel appreciated are less likely to become involved in arguments with other workers.
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