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Office conflict – good or bad?

May 31, 2017

By Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

All offices have conflict.  As people work together to solve problems, it’s virtually unavoidable.  And most importantly, it’s OK.  It’s how it’s handled that can make or break the effectiveness of conflict.

In an extreme example of workplace conflict reported recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Pizza Hut supervisor pepper sprayed a co-worker after an argument over pepperoni placement.  The argument escalated to the point that police had to be called.  While this level conflict isn’t ordinary, it can happen.  Employees at all levels should be trained to handle conflict and resolved issues properly.  But when HR does need to step in, the following are some helpful steps to follow for effective conflict resolution:

  • Clarify what the disagreement is.  Get to the heart of the argument.  Get clarity from both sides and continue to investigate until the issue is fully understood by all parties.
  • Establish a common goal for both parties. Both sides should agree on a desired outcome.  
  • Discuss ways to meet the common goal.  All parties should listen, communicate, and brainstorm together.  Both sides should work together and continue to identify options for resolve until all ideas are exhausted.
  • Determine barriers to the common goal.  In this step, the parties involved acknowledge the cause of the conflict and discuss any problems that could prevent resolution.  Parties should identify those things that can and cannot be changed and then focus on the things that can be changed.
  • Agree on the best way to resolve the conflict.  Narrow down the solutions discussed in step 3 to those that both parties could agree upon.  Continue to discuss and mold these options into one, commonly agreed upon resolution.  
  • Acknowledge the agreed-upon solution, and determine the responsibilities each party has in the resolution.  Both parties should agree upon the resolution and restate their part in the solution.  This is also a good opportunity to discuss ways to avoid such a conflict in the future.

It’s important to understand the reasons behind workplace conflicts so that problems can be tackled before a conflict turns into an all-out brawl between coworkers or departments.  There are two common factors that can lead to workplace conflict: poor communication and emotions.

Even though people typically shy away from conflict, it is actually normal and healthy.  Research has shown that the most effective teams are those whose members feel comfortable enough to disagree with one another and express it.  Differences among opinion is where some of the greatest ideas can stem from.  It’s important to have a supportive culture that listens to new ideas.  They can spur innovation.  As Justin Corbett, executive director for the National Association for Community Mediation, states, “Each conflict is an opportunity for growth.  Conflicts provide the opportunities to better appreciate another perspective, clarify your own interests, strengthen bonds, and discover new ways forward.” 

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