PCAOB Fines Withum for “Pervasive Quality Control Violations” in SPAC Audits

Conflict Resolution and Ethical Decision-Making: Strategies for a Harmonious Workplace

Causes and Solutions to Workplace Conflict

When you put a lot of people together in one place, there will naturally be conflict. This is especially true at work because the workplace is often made up of a diverse group of people who all have different personalities, ideals, opinions, and backgrounds. While diversity in the workplace is good, it does mean people are going to disagree from time to time.

Though conflict in the workplace is normal, it’s important to be mindful of how conflicts are resolved. If handled inappropriately, it can make the conflict worse, lead to more instances of conflict in the future, and can contribute overall to a negative and unproductive workplace.

In this article, we will dive deeper to better understand what conflict resolution is and the causes of workplace conflict. We will also offer conflict resolution tips and strategies for a more harmonious workplace.

What is Conflict Resolution?

In the simplest terms, conflict resolution is the process of recognizing, addressing, and resolving conflicts or disputes among employees or coworkers. This involves two or more parties working toward a solution that resolves the dispute in a way that satisfies everyone involved. The goal of conflict resolution should be to handle the disagreement in a way that promotes and fosters a more positive work environment moving forward.

Common Causes of Workplace Conflict

Conflict can arise for various reasons. However, workplace conflicts are generally categorized in one of two ways:

  1. Substantive: This type of conflict is typically task or decision-making-related, meaning it is more tangible. Substantive conflicts often happen because of the decisions someone made, a team member’s performance, or company policies or direction.
  2. Personality: Personality conflicts arise due to clashing personalities.

In either case, both types of conflict can lead to a much larger issue if left unaddressed or handled inappropriately. Other more specific causes of conflict in the workplace can include:

  • Poor communication skills
  • Misunderstandings
  • Lack of direction or unclear responsibilities
  • Competing or unaligned interests
  • Biases and stereotypes
  • Unethical treatment or inequality
  • Perceptions of unfairness
  • Conflicting processing or learning styles
  • Resource competition (competing for time, money, equipment, etc.)

Again, while some of these issues might seem normal, if left unaddressed, they can spiral into a much larger problem. It is crucial to be on the lookout for conflict so it can be addressed and handled professionally and ethically as soon as possible.

Conflict Resolution Tips and Strategies

Conflict is such a common occurrence in the workplace that there are numerous professional resources for how to deal with these situations. To that end, here are some tips to help your company better handle conflicts and build a more positive and harmonious workplace culture.  Conflict resolution                                          

1. Leadership Training and Skill Development

As mentioned above, poor leadership and poor decision-making are common causes of workplace conflict. One of the best ways to handle and prevent conflicts is to train your management and executive teams to be better and more ethical leaders.

All your workplace leaders should be trained in conflict management, which includes developing skills such as active listening, emotional intelligence, patience, positivity, impartiality, and open communication. Additionally, they should also work on honing these specific conflict resolution skills:

  • Using “yes, and” statements instead of “no’s” or “yes, but” statements.
  • Avoiding pointing fingers and playing the blame game.
  • Using “I” statements.
  • Maintaining a calm and even tone.
  • Paying close attention to nonverbal communication (i.e. hand gestures, posture, facial expressions).
  • Knowing when to apologize and when to forgive.
  • Showing a willingness to compromise.
  • Prioritizing resolving the conflict over being right.
  • Focusing on the present conflict and not bringing past conflict into the conversation.
  • Practicing active listening.

It also helps to have empathy for all those involved. Understanding how each person feels from their perspective can help you reach a solution that ensures everyone is satisfied, which also requires knowing how to compromise. 

2. Utilize Incident Reporting

Making sure conflicts are properly reported can also help with ethical conflict resolution. An official report of the conflict incident ensures human resources are aware in case there are any continuing issues or in case anyone thinks the issue was resolved unfairly.

Incident reports keep things transparent and can also help the company track conflict trends. These kinds of records enable the company to identify if there are any patterns, so they can develop a better solution to prevent these conflicts moving forward. Having an official report can also help leaders learn from their mistakes and understand what they need to do differently next time a similar conflict occurs. 

3. Find Ways to Reduce Stress

Even with the best-laid conflict resolution plans, conflict can still happen. This is especially true when you work in a high-pressure industry.

If conflict resolution strategies don’t seem to be working, the problem might be that your employees are simply too stressed. If this is the case, the answer might be in finding better ways to manage and reduce stress for your employees.

If long hours are part of the problem, look for ways to offer employees more breaks and time to take care of their personal needs. You can also investigate alternative work schedules, which can offer employees a better work-life balance.

If the issue is that your employees have too much to do and not enough time, try to find ways to alleviate their workload. Automate repetitive tasks, or improve task delegation — look for new ways to handle business adversity such as adopting better tools and managing customer demand more systematically.

Better benefits and employee appreciation programs can also help. This can include better pay, better healthcare plans, offering gym memberships or discounts, or even creating a space in the office where employees can go for a few minutes to meditate, decompress, and maybe even stretch and do yoga.

Final Thoughts

Though conflict is common in the workplace, you must learn to identify and address issues quickly and more positively and efficiently to prevent issues in the future. Conflict should be addressed early, leaders should show empathy and practice active listening, and resolutions should be a compromise that ensures everyone’s satisfaction to avoid bias or one-sided solutions.

From time to time, I post a guest blog. Today's blog is the work of Charlie Fletcher. You can Charlie at: [email protected].

Posted by Steven Mintz, Ph.D., aka Ethics Sage, on March 14, 2024. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/.