Nearly all employees experience workplace conflict during the course of their careers. A study by CPP Inc., the company behind Myers-Briggs personality assessment, found that employees spend an average of 2.1 hours per week embroiled in workplace conflict. In one year, that equates to 385 million working days lost to workplace conflict, at a total cost to U.S. businesses of approximately $359 billion. What strategies for conflict resolution in the workplace can supervisors and HR professionals utilize to reduce pressure inside the organization?

What causes conflict at work?

Employees are unique individuals. Get any group of people together and some conflicts are bound to arise. Add in the constant pressure of deadlines and projects, and it can be a recipe for interpersonal fireworks in the workplace. Most coworker conflicts fall into these categories:

  • Clash of personalities: Some people just naturally dislike each other. This causes serious conflict if people can’t or won’t learn to tolerate coworkers with different personality styles.

  • Poor communication: When people lack good communication skills, coworkers may be unable to articulate their differences in a mutually respectful way.

  • Organizational changes: Whether an employee switches to a new team, departments reorganize, or employee turnover causes coworkers to shoulder additional responsibilities, every organizational change has the potential to create new conflicts..

  • Conflicting priorities: Conflicts arise when different teams or departments have objectives that conflict. A common example is when Marketing needs to cut budget while Sales is expected to increase leads.

Don’t avoid conflict resolution at work

Many employees simply try to avoid or ignore conflict at work in the hope the conflict will eventually go away without intervention. Experts agree that strategy does more harm than good in most cases. Unresolved conflict tends to fester and cause bitter feelings. It disrupts team cohesion and can inhibit productivity. If it goes on too long, unresolved conflict can lead to valuable employees transferring out of their team–or worse, leaving the company.

7 HR conflict resolution strategies

HR has a major role to play in workplace conflict resolution. Here are seven strategies HR can use to establish a lower-conflict workplace to help employees resolve disputes:

  1. Create the right company culture and hire people that fit.

    Prevent as much workplace conflict as possible by establishing a great company culture that encourages collaboration, teamwork and going the extra mile to help others. With a strong culture, you can make hires that fit the culture and should fit well together.

  2. Establish shared values, including respect and tolerance.

    Your organization should expect good behavior from its employees. Spell out the company’s expectations for shared values, including empathy, listening, respect for others and tolerance.

  3. Train managers in conflict resolution skills.

    Managers need to mediate disputes among their direct reports as well as to cooperate with other managers to settle interdepartmental disputes. Leaders should deal with conflict head-on and need to be taught to identify the core problems amidst employee manipulation and drama.. Managers lacking conflict resolution skills often have more trouble retaining good employees.

  4. Teach employees to choose their battles.

    Employees should be encouraged to extend each other forgiveness when feelings are made raw by conflicts of personality or communication style. But if a conflict is jeopardizing company objectives, team cohesion or project deadlines, it’s time to involve a manager and/or HR.

  5. Host conflict resolution meetings

    When conflict boils up, there’s no better way to de escalate tension than to get all parties in a room together. Resist the urge to meet with people privately. Parties may become more entrenched and polarized when given the opportunity to present their one-sided case to the boss. Better to let everyone speak and take accountability for their positions and emotions.6.

  6. Define actions.

    Ask all parties what they think would be an appropriate resolution to the conflict. Have them spell out the actions they will personally be responsible to complete.

  7. Consequences

    After everyone agrees to the actions they will take to resolve the conflict, hold everyone to account. If any party fails to follow through, disciplinary action should follow

Develop conflict resolution processes for your organization

Organizations should take a top-down approach to conflict resolution with leaders modeling core values like respect, compromise and accountability. Train managers to tackle team conflicts before resentment builds. Expert human capital consultants at Asure Software can help your organization establish the company culture, conflict resolution policies and processes, and management training to successfully navigate workplace conflict.

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