Disputes in the workplace, regardless of how petty they may appear on the surface, need to be addressed quickly and openly before they’re given space to develop into a state of conflict.

Strong management practice is needed to recognise when employees have become caught up in dispute, either with each other or as a united group against company policy.

While disagreement is an unavoidable fact of life, and one the workplace is not immune to, escalation of disputes can prove extremely unsettling for all parties involved and may result in a fall off in production and a drop in staff morale.

Early intervention by management is essential to diffuse uncomfortable situations or resolve more heightened disputes to the satisfaction of all parties.

The reasons for workplace disputes and conflict are wide and varied. Some of the more common issues include:

  • People feeling they’re being restricted or held back in their work
  • People feeling they’re being placed under undue pressure
  • People feel they’re not being adequately compensated
  • Unsatisfactory communications coming down the line
  • Lack of clarity as to what’s expected from individuals
  • People maintaining different goals and values
  • People feeling misunderstood in their job
  • Unrealistic scrimping on essential tools, services, etc.
  • External factors - including substance abuse or domestic issues

It will ultimately fall to management or a company’s HR professionals to interpret, assess and bring about a resolution to workplace disputes when they become apparent.

Such disputes may erupt suddenly, or may have been simmering away unnoticed for some time, but it’s essential, that once they’ve come to the fore, the process of resolution is followed in an intelligent and sensitive manner.

Managers stepping into the process of resolution need to remain emotionally detached from the issues at play and need to truly listen to all sides, exercising a sense of empathy towards all viewpoints.

It’s also helpful if the dispute is recognised as an opportunity to learn and bring about a resolution that might assist the company in the future.

Things to consider when dealing with conflict in the workplace:

  • Focus on the problem not the person
  • Never force an individual into a defensive situation
  • Never make sweeping generalisations or rash judgements
  • Show an equal level of respect for all sides
  • Be professional and forthright
  • Never ignore the issue
  • Listen to and thoroughly understand what is being said
  • Explain how you feel about a situation rather than attack
  • Ensure healthy staff / management boundaries are established early on to avoid conflict escalation
  • Show empathy and deal with individuals as people with lives
  • Be aware of, and be able to cite, potential disciplinary consequences if conflict continues

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