Navigating Workplace Conflict

Conflict in the workplace is like a detour on a busy road. It’s inconvenient, but it doesn’t have to be a dead end. In fact, if approached as a learning opportunity, a potential impasse can lead to some interesting discoveries, bringing light into the journey.

While there’s no one perfect way to navigate conflict, there are some practical tips for resolution as well as warranted corrective actions.

Cause #1: Communication Challenges

Poor communication, lack of communication, and hasty or careless comments are often behind the scenes in workplace conflicts. Often, messengers have not thought carefully enough about their audience:

  • What do they know/not know?
  • What is the context of the message?
  • And what about tone? How might these words come across to others?
  • Are the action items and responsibilities clear?

Here’s a scenario:

Imagine that you are a manager sending an email with project instructions that seemed, to you, crystal clear. Yet, Sarah, one of your team members, is scratching her head, thinking, “These instructions are so vague. I’m baffled; did I miss something?”

Manager’s reflections:

  • How can I initiate a conversation with Sarah that’s open and non-threatening?
  • What can I learn from listening?
  • How could I improve my communication style to avoid this in the future?

Tips for going forward:

  • Initiate an open and empathetic conversation, with the intent of listening and making sure Sarah feels heard.
  • Model the company’s core values, especially those that relate to empathetic communication and transparency.
  • Consider a second set of eyes who can review important communication from the shoes of others.

Cause #2: Scarcity of Resources

When resources are strained and there is competition for those resources, people can feel like they are set up for failure. If the workload is excessive, they can harbor resentment that breeds conflict.

Here’s a scenario:

Imagine that you’re a director with a team; some members are on medical leave, and there are two vacancies to be filled. Team members feel stretched thin to accommodate a new client while absorbing essential operational tasks delegated them since the reduced manpower. Two of your managers are at odds over accountability for certain steps in the new account implementation.

Manager’s reflections:

  • How can I facilitate a discussion on resource allocation that considers everyone’s needs?
  • Do I need to better understand the priorities of both managers?
  • Can I find compromises that benefit the entire organization? Can business priorities be adjusted or delayed?

Tips for going forward:

  • Promote open discussions on resource allocation, bringing in multiple parties and inviting ideas.
  • Consider the organization’s goals and needs and (re)establish consensus on what’s most important.
  • Seek alternative resource solutions.

Cause #3: Difference in Behavioral Styles and Personalities

There are several popular personality and strengths assessments used by businesses and organizations to better understand their employees and improve team dynamics. Some of the most popular assessments include Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DISC assessment, StrengthsFinder, Enneagram, Predictive Index, and Hogan Assessments.

These tools contribute to conflict prevention by helping people improve their self-awareness, providing insight to team dynamics, and providing guidance on navigating conflict based on strengths and personality types.

Here’s a scenario:

Juan and Alexa are part of a project team working on a critical client presentation. Juan is introverted, detail-oriented, and prefers structured, focused work. Alexa is extroverted, a big-picture thinker, and enjoys brainstorming and dynamic discussions. As the presentation deadline approaches, conflicts arise due to their differing communication styles and approaches to work.

Alexa excitedly gathers the team for a brainstorming session to generate ideas for the client presentation. Juan feels overwhelmed by the fast-paced, extroverted atmosphere and thinks, “This is too chaotic; we need a plan!” Juan leaves the meeting frustrated. Alexa, on the other hand, is confused, thinking, “Why isn’t Juan contributing? Doesn’t he see the urgency?”

Manager’s reflections:

The manager recognizes that this conflict stems from a difference in communication styles and preferences. The company recently deployed Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), so he considers the following:

  • How can I facilitate a discussion on different styles, while highlighting strengths of each?
  • How can I establish guidelines for productive conversation and outcomes?
  • How can I check in to ensure they are working well together?

8 Tips for Personality Assessments and Conflict Resolution:

  1. Voluntary Participation: Encourage employees to take personality assessments voluntarily, emphasizing the benefits of self-awareness and improved collaboration.
  2. Professional Interpretation: Ensure that assessments are administered and interpreted by qualified professionals or certified practitioners to avoid misinterpretations.
  3. Conflict Root Identification: Use personality assessments to identify potential conflict triggers rooted in differences in communication styles, work preferences, and personality traits.
  4. Individual Strengths Acknowledgment: Emphasize the unique strengths and contributions that each personality type brings to the team.
  5. Collaborative Strategies: Develop strategies to facilitate collaboration between employees with different personalities and communication styles.
  6. Regular Feedback: Schedule periodic check-in meetings to assess the effectiveness of conflict resolution strategies and make necessary adjustments.
  7. Conflict Mediation: When conflicts do arise, use conflict resolution techniques, such as active listening and compromise, to address differences constructively.
  8. Leadership Modeling: Encourage leaders and managers to set an example by embracing self-awareness and adapting their leadership styles to foster collaboration and conflict resolution.

Cause #4: The Wrong Person for the Job or the Company

Differences in behavioral styles and personalities are opportunities to learn about one another; however, there is a line between difference in behavior, and bad behavior. People who cross the line into unethical business behavior, being abusive, harassing, discriminatory, or disrespectful of others quickly become toxic to the company. Good leaders have a responsibility to take complaints of others seriously, and show people with toxic behavior the door, so that employees don’t think the behavior is condoned by the company.

Sometimes a person isn’t being unethical, but they are not fulfilling the expectations for their role. Many times, they are unhappy, and bad attitudes lead to conflicts with peers and others. As with toxic behavior, a good leader must look out for the good of the company, and that includes terminating people who aren’t the right fit for their job.

Navigating Bumps in the Road

The bottom line is conflicts will inevitably arise. A roadblock or speedbump doesn’t have to be insurmountable. By approaching these challenges with empathy, transparency, and a collaborative learning mindset, you can make a course correction. It’s not so much what happens, as what you make of it, especially the grace with which you rise to restore harmony and redirect your team toward success.




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