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How to avoid conflict in the workplace


According to research carried out by personality assessment consultancy OPP in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, 85% of employees will have to deal with conflict in the workplace at some point. Even though we are now all currently working remotely, conflict can also happen virtually as we interact via phone calls, video conferences or email.

These disputes can involve disagreements with colleagues or with Line Managers. Being part of a dispute can create a tense working environment, de-motivation and therefore a decrease in productivity. If not resolved quickly and amicably, longer term side effects include stress, lack of sleep, bad temperament and ultimately poorer health. So, is it possible to avoid workplace conflict entirely? Probably not. Disagreements are part of daily life, both in and out of work. Therefore, it is important that people can deal with them as and when they occur and apply some principles to reduce the risk of becoming involved in a dispute. Here are just some of our tips (that are relevant, whether working virtually or back in the office in hopefully a few months’ time) that could aid in deflecting conflict:

Listen: Winston Churchill famously said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” It is extremely important to listen to others point of view without interruption. Whilst you may not agree with them, you need to respect individuals’ views by listening before you put your ideas and thoughts forward. Having a balanced discussion, face to face or via technology, enables both parties to reflect on both viewpoints and make an informed judgement on what they have heard.

  1. Consider Personality Types: We are all different and have different styles and approaches to how we do things. There are many psychometric tools available, such as SHL motivation styles, Hogan personality inventories, Myers Briggs and Insights Discovery, that can enable your employees to better understand themselves and others and how best to communicate and work with them. All of these tools are on-line so can easily be accessed and assessed remotely. We all need to adapt our styles to whoever our audience is, tailoring our approach to how we engage and communicate. Consider if an individual requires all the facts before making a decision or needs to see things visually.
  2. Think about how you come across: This is important both physically (arms folded, even on video, creates a barrier), verbally (being loud is not necessary) and virtually (blunt to the point emails can sometimes be misinterpreted). See yourself through the eyes of the recipient, how will you be received?
  3. Put things in perspective: Disputes can escalate out of control from the smallest issue. Even the most inconsequential action of a colleague can cause a negative impression and then leads to individuals looking for other examples, however small, to reinforce that opinion. So, re-evaluate actions, was it important, does it really matter in the context of the bigger picture?
  4. Act quickly: The longer a dispute is left to fester, the harder it becomes to understand the real causes of the conflict, let alone find a solution. So, nip things in the bud by applying our 4 principles above.

Some workplace disputes may not have a clear solution despite the best efforts of all concerned. To avoid a long drawn out dispute that may be contagious for workplace morale, it may be worth calling a professional workplace mediator to help when conflict moves faster than the internal skills set can manage. 

Mediation brings a way for both employer and employee to resolve a workplace dispute, by providing an outside perspective. Practised effectively, mediation can repair a professional relationship and maybe even leave it stronger than before. 

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