Workplace Bullies Charm their way to the Top
Character and Leadership in the Workplace

Dealing with Workplace Conflict

Leadership and Ethics the key to Workplace Conflict Resolution

When people work together in groups, there are bound to be occasions when they disagree and conflicts arise in the workplace. Whether these disagreements become full-blown feuds or instead fuel creative problem solving is, in large part, up to the person in charge. A good leader identifies the problem early on, makes sure everyone involved knows exactly what the issue is, and allows each person to clarify their perspectives and opinions, giving equal time for them to express their thoughts.

Good leaders set the tone for conflict resolution. A good leader looks for areas of compromise and seeks to differentiate between disagreements in style and those of substance. A good leader can ensure that employees deal with disagreements in proactive, productive ways and know when and how to intervene -- and when to let things be.

Conflict in the workplace can mean less commitment in the workforce. Human resources managers’ report that they spend anywhere from 24-60 percent of their time trying to resolve workplace conflicts, according to a survey by the Society for the Human Resource Management (SHRM). SHRM says that almost 60 percent of survey respondents have seen violent incidents in their workplace over the last three years, with “personality conflicts” as the main cause.

More troubling results from the survey revealed:

  • 53 percent of workers have lost time at work over worries about a previous or potential confrontation with a colleague.
  • 28 percent have lost work time in their attempts to avoid confrontations.
  • 37 percent are less committed to their employer because of a hostile workplace altercation.
  • 22 percent say they’re putting less effort into their work due to conflicts at work.

Workplace conflict is inevitable. Whenever you are dealing with different personalities, disagreements will occur at least in style. If left unchecked, these conflicts can create friction in the workplace that affects other workers. In extreme cases, the workplace can become a toxic place to be.

A little forethought can go a long way toward preventing conflicts among coworkers. To minimize the incidence of disagreements, bring issues out in the open before they become problems. Informal counseling provides managers and supervisors with an effective means of addressing and managing conflict in the workplace. This may take the form of meetings, negotiation/mediation sessions, or other dispute-resolution processes.

It will help to have a clearly thought-out process for resolving conflicts. Provide appropriate training for all employees, teach everyone basic conflict-resolution skills, and set an example by using them yourself.

A strong foundation of business ethics is an appropriate tool to make the best business decisions. Likewise, a strong foundation of personal ethics is an appropriate tool for resolving business conflict.

There are some basic truths about any behavior, including workplace behavior: (1) we love to be agreed with, (2) we hate to be disagreed with, (3) we tend to like those who usually agree with us, and (4) we tend to dislike those who usually disagree with us.

Couple this with another conflict-resolving fact: If the resolution of a conflict leaves one party perceiving they have "won," and the other party perceiving they have "lost," the conflict is not resolved; it is merely postponed. The most ethical resolutions leave neither party completely satisfied; rather they perceive the outcome is sufficiently fair and equitable, and they can live with it.

In an ethical conflict-resolution process, the goal of each party is not "how much I can secure from this conflict," but rather "how can we agree on a common solution going forward that provides some benefit to both of us."

Reaching a win-lose resolution (where only one party benefits) is a recipe for disaster and continuing acrimony. This fosters a decaying atmosphere of "you may have won this round, but I will get my revenge next time." In contrast, making the extra effort to achieve a win-win resolution usually results in renewed respect and cooperation between both parties.

Workplace conflict resolution procedures are keys to establishing a healthy workplace environment. It starts with mutual respect and ends with a set of ethical standards in business that establish the tone that conflicts should be brought out in the open and all parties should be treated fairly. If the matter cannot be amicably resolved, then one person may have to be reassigned to restore a healthy, productive environment.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 8, 2013