No workplace is without conflict. But what causes it – and how can technology help you deal with it?

Where there’s ambition, competing personalities, and stressful situations, emotions can sometimes boil over. That’s a normal part of working life.

But while some conflicts are short-lived, others are deep-seated and can end up affecting the rest of the team’s productivity and morale.

Managers spend up to 40% of their time resolving workplace conflicts. And that’s time that could be better spent on more important and productive things.

Common causes of conflict

There are many reasons for discord in the workplace, but here are some of the most common causes.

Poor communication

When departments or employees aren’t communicating in effective ways it can create misunderstanding and lead to hostility. But most conflicts arise from something that wasn’t said rather than something that was – a manager reassigning a task without telling an employee why, for example.

Confusion about job roles and responsibilities can lead to stress, workplace isolation, and passive-aggressive behavior.

Discrimination

Pay equality is a big workplace issue that many organizations are still struggling to deal with. These failures can be divisive.

In addition to gender inequality, other forms of discrimination including age, religion, and disability, can also create divisions and leave organizations vulnerable to disharmony or even legal problems.

Personality clashes

Diversity is good for business. Organizations made up of people with a variety of backgrounds, characteristics and experiences often outperform industry equivalents [1]. But it can also pose problems in terms of different communication styles and block progressive collaboration between individuals and teams.

Competition

While healthy competition is good for motivating employees, too much rivalry and ruthless ambition can lead to a breakdown in team collaboration. This may be especially true of organizations or departments with performance-related pay and bonuses.

Effective measures for resolving conflict

To keep your team working together in harmony, there are steps you can take to prevent or manage conflict effectively.

Set clear expectations

Clear communication and delegation can go a long way towards avoiding disputes. When a manager asks for something to be done, they should outline what they want in terms of deadlines, structure and other key aspects of the task.

Redesign the workplace

A dimly-lit working environment, an overflowing email inbox and constantly ringing telephones can raise tensions. The calmer people feel in their working environment, the less likely conflict is to arise.

Using Workplace Chat can help reduce the reliance on email and phone calls. It also enables employees to communicate in ways they’re comfortable with.

A phone or video call via the app, or using instant messaging if people prefer.

Implement an open-door policy

Addressing problems up-front is important. If staff feel managers are unapproachable or that they won’t be taken seriously, they might not report any workplace issues.

Encourage employees to get things off their chest. Some 81% of people would rather work for an employer that values open communication over one that offers perks like free food and gym memberships.

Focus on the problem, not the person

Managers can sometimes dismiss employee concerns because of perceptions that people are making trouble or are exaggerating issues. But valid differences can often lie behind a conflict. If you separate the problem from the person, you can discuss workplace issues without damaging relationships.

Mediate between employees

Some conflicts run so deep that you might need outside help to resolve issues. Mediation involves finding an impartial third party that all parties trust – like a manager from another department, an HR representative or co-worker. The mediator will oversee the meeting with the aim of negotiating a solution that everyone is happy with.

Use technology to help solve issues

The very nature of work can sometimes present the perfect atmosphere for tension and conflict. And using tried and tested methods like these can manage situations can help.

But technology can, too. Look for the platforms that bring people in your organization closer together.

That don’t just enable people to collaborate more effectively, but that provide better ways to communicate and discuss issues openly in public forums.

A solution that encourages people to have better conversations that may even prevent serious conflicts arising in the first place.


[1] Delivering Growth Through Diversity McKinsey, 2018

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