How to Improve Areas of Conflict in the Workplace

by Ralph Heibutzki

Every workplace has its share of conflict, which can become destructive without a comprehensive strategy for addressing it. Learning to communicate without blaming others, or putting down their positions, is an important first step. Managers must also address conflict by helping employees find solutions that seem acceptable to them. Only then will both sides strike a compromise that allows them to continue working together effectively, while helping the company to achieve its goals.

Analyze The Causes

Analyze the causes to begin defusing workplace conflicts. Ask why a co-worker's behavior upsets you so much, and whether external factors -- such as unrealistic deadlines -- are driving the situation. Ask if you're making unfair assumptions about the other person's motives, since he probably views the situation in a different light, suggest Vancouver Island University's dispute resolution guidelines. Once you've examined all the relevant issues, create a shortlist of suggestions to improve the situation.

Avoid Emotional Language

Restating your understanding of a co-worker's position is an effective way of solving conflicts. During your discussion, Vancouver Island University recommends adopting neutral, non-emotional language. For example, preface statements with "I," or "we," instead of "you," which is more likely to evoke a defensive response. You can also address the situation by using such collective phrases as "our problem." The idea is to focus on the issue without blaming or tearing down the other person.

Call In Both Sides

If you're asked to solve the conflict as a manager, call in both sides for a meeting. Sit down with each person first to get their perspective, organizational psychologist Dr. David G. Javitch recommends in his July 2010 "Entrepreneur" magazine column, "Seven Steps to Defuse Workplace Tension." Allow the participants to share their perspectives in a group discussion, which is a good first step in encouraging the warring parties to seek a mutually acceptable solution.

Find Common Ground

Once you've heard all sides of the conflict, encourage those involved to find common ground. This step is important, Javitch says, since each employee has concerns that his co-worker can accept. By helping identify those concerns, you provide a way for the participants in a conflict to back away from entrenched positions. This technique lays the foundation for compromise, in which you ask all sides to give up something to maintain a positive working relationship.

Other Considerations

Conflict is unavoidable in any work setting. However, companies can minimize the occurrence of disruptive conflict by setting the ground rules for acceptable behavior, states "Forbes" magazine. Effective communication is more likely when employees know the appropriate procedure to resolve disputes with co-workers or supervisors. Regular team building and leadership development exercises can also reduce the likelihood of employees adopting negative behavioral traits that lead to conflict, such as deflecting criticism or blame on others.

About the Author

Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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