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Dealing with Workplace Conflict

Conflict in the Workplace can be Toxic

Workplace conflict can be healthy if it helps to clarify problems and resolve differences between top management and a supervisor of employees; supervisor and employee; employee and employee. The right way to deal with workplace conflict is to address it head-on. Putting one’s head in the sand and hoping that conflict will pass you by is not the most effective methodology for problem solving. Conflict rarely resolves itself – in fact, conflict normally escalates if not dealt with proactively and properly. It is not at all uncommon to see what might have been a non-event manifest itself into a monumental problem if not resolved early on.

Conflict resolution requires workplace leadership and application of ethical standards. A good leader will do the following: call the disputing parties together; find out about the facts as perceived by each side; be a good listener; discuss how the dispute not only affects each party but others in the workplace; remind each party of the ethical standards as embodied in the organization’s code of ethics; and develop a solution to resolve the issues. Most important is to follow up with each party to monitor progress and deal with lingering concerns.

In my experience the biggest barrier to conflict resolution is to effectively handle the emotions that build up over time and eventually boil over leading to the urgency of resolving the conflict. Unresolved conflict can be toxic in the workplace. It can draw others into the emotional stress that is a by-product of the conflict between two or more employees in the workplace. It can make for an otherwise enjoyable job not so enjoyable and lead one employee or another to look for new work. That can harm an organization where the employee is a valued member of the team.

Here is my advice if you find yourself involved in a conflict situation with another employee or your supervisor.

  1. Discuss it as soon as possible; don’t let your anger fester because it will create undue stress that can harm you both in the workplace and at home.
  2. Approach your supervisor to discuss the matter and be diplomatic. Be honest in how you explain the facts from your point of view. “Massaging” the facts does no good because once the other party realizes it (i.e., supervisor), all trust is gone and your position will become untenable.
  3. If the conflict involves harassment (i.e., sexual/gender bias/sexual orientation) and you have reported it to your supervisor to no avail, go to the HR department immediately and get your grievance on record. From here it becomes a potential legal matter – an issue for another blog.
  4. Be open with your family about the matter; you need their support to get through the conflict and a spouse might have helpful suggestions to deal with the situation.
  5. If you see that the conflict is affecting your health, contact your insurance provider. Most have employee assistance counseling for such matters free of charge. Also, it puts you on record as having disclosed the facts to an objective third party.

We all know how difficult it is sometimes to keep a positive attitude at the work place. There is not only the work you need to do, but also the people you need to deal with - and both areas may feel challenging at times.

One particularly challenging area for conflict resolution that concerns me greatly is when one employee tries to take credit for the work of another. The offended employee feels betrayed by the other employee and the temptation to get even can be overwhelming. Revenge is a powerful motive but one that can infect the workplace and draw other employees into the drama. If you feel victimized by an employee who takes credit for your work, document why you feel that way. Keep copies of any communication with the offending employee and talk to your supervisor as soon as possible.

Indira Gandhi once said: "There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there."

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 2, 2013