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Workplace conflicts are inevitable, and if not managed effectively, these types of disputes can escalate, leading to decreased productivity, low morale, and a negative impact on the overall business. With the right strategies and interventions, workplace conflicts can be prevented; and if they do occur, de-escalated.

Understanding Workplace Conflicts

Conflict in the workplace is common among organizations of all sizes. They are often the result of opposing or incompatible goals, desires, demands, wants, or needs. When resources are limited/scarce or interference is present, conflicts are a typical result.

It is important to note that a dispute or conflict does not necessarily mean the relationship is poor or failing. It could just be a reflection of different priorities, for example, based on the position that each individual involved holds within the organization.

There are several types of conflicts that may occur within organizations. Some of the most common include:

  • Task conflicts
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Value conflicts

Task conflicts often arise from disagreements over a specific task or project that the individuals involved are working on. Relationship conflicts, on the other hand, are more personal and can stem from personality clashes or interpersonal tensions. Value conflicts occur when there are differences in personal beliefs, values, or ethics.

Another type of conflict that can occur in the workplace is interdependence conflict. This happens when two or more people rely on one another to complete a task or reach a goal. While interdependence is an important element of successful teamwork, it can cause challenges between team members, particularly when it is perceived (rightly or wrongly) that one or more of the team members is not meeting proper expectations.

Understanding the cause of the conflict is a crucial first step in managing it effectively. This involves observing the conflict firsthand and gathering information from those involved. By identifying the type and cause of the conflict, you can apply targeted conflict-resolution tactics to address the issue and prevent it from escalating.

Preventing Workplace Conflicts

Preventing workplace conflicts is a proactive approach that can save businesses and other organizations from the negative effects of unresolved disputes, such as emotional stress, work disruption, low-quality outputs, project failures, absenteeism, and even resignation or termination. Here are some of the most effective strategies to prevent conflicts from arising in the workplace:

  1. Open and Clear Communication: Encourage team members to express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns openly and honestly. Regular team meetings can provide a platform for this communication. This can help in addressing any issues or misunderstandings before they escalate into full-blown conflicts.
  2. Objectivity: Encourage employees to act and react objectively in the workplace. For example, instead of focusing on aspects of a coworker’s personality, it is far more productive to focus on their actions.
  3. Focus on the Problem, Not the People: Along the same lines as the previous point, when a conflict arises, it is best to focus on the problem (and how best to resolve it) rather than the individuals involved. This can help in finding a solution that addresses the issue at hand rather than escalating personal disputes.
  4. Address Conflicts Early: It is important to confront disputes when they first arise and before the situation deteriorates. Early intervention can prevent small disagreements from escalating into major conflicts.
  5. Choose Your Battles: Not every disagreement is worth expending a lot of time and energy. Sometimes, it is best to let go of minor issues unless it is necessary to address them. This can help in maintaining a peaceful and harmonious work environment.

De-escalating Workplace Conflicts

When conflicts do arise, it is crucial to have strategies in place to de-escalate them effectively. Here are some key steps to take:

  1. Directly Address the Issue: Don’t wait for the conflict to resolve itself. Address the issue immediately to prevent it from escalating further. This could involve clarifying misunderstandings or correcting miscommunications.
  2. Understand the Source of the Conflict: Speak to each person involved privately to understand their concerns. Dig deep to determine the source of the conflict. If the conflict involves bullying, discrimination, or harassment, work with HR to determine the best course of action.
  3. Practice Compassionate Listening and Communication: Empathy is a powerful tool in managing workplace conflict. Try to understand what people are going through and demonstrate empathy without taking sides.
  4. Encourage Understanding: Try to get the people involved in the conflict to understand what the other person is feeling. Once a person understands the other person’s perspective, they may find it easier to negotiate and come to a workable resolution.
  5. Be a Good Listener: Listening is a crucial part of communication, especially when it comes to handling conflict in the workplace. Taking the time to listen to what others have to say shows that you care what they think, and it allows you to gain a fuller understanding of the situation.

When to Bring in a Third-Party Mediator

There are situations when conflicts in the workplace become too complex or entrenched to resolve internally. In such cases, it may be necessary to bring in a professional mediator. A mediator is an impartial individual who can facilitate communication, promote understanding, and help the parties involved in the conflict to find a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Here are some signs that it might be time to bring in an outside mediator:

  1. Persistent Conflicts: If the same conflicts keep arising despite multiple attempts to resolve them, this could be an indication of deeper issues that might benefit from the perspective of a professional mediator who is not connected directly with the organization.
  2. Escalating Tensions: If conflicts keep escalating and they are starting to affect the wider team or the overall work environment, an outside mediator can help to de-escalate the situation and find a resolution.
  3. Breakdown in Communication: If communication has broken down between the parties involved in the conflict, an outside mediator can help bring the parties back to the table and reopen the lines of communication.
  4. Risk of Legal Action: If there is a risk that the workplace conflict could lead to legal action, it is often a good idea to bring in a mediator as soon as possible to try to find a resolution before the situation reaches that point.
  5. Complex Issues: If the conflict involves complicated issues that the organization does not have the ability to handle in-house, a mediator with specific expertise in those areas can be invaluable.

Contact Advanced Mediation Solutions for Help with Workplace Conflict Management

Preventing and de-escalating conflicts in the workplace is crucial for maintaining a productive and harmonious work environment. However, when conflicts become too complex or entrenched to resolve internally, it may be necessary to bring in a professional mediator who has an outside perspective.

Advanced Mediation Solutions (AMS) is a trusted provider of workplace mediation services on the East Coast. Our mediator, Carmela DeNicola, has several decades of experience working closely with organizations of all sizes, and she is often called upon to help effectively resolve workplace conflicts.

If you are facing persistent or escalating conflicts in your workplace, contact AMS today at (856) 669-7172 to find out if third-party mediation is the right solution for your business or organization. We are ready to help you navigate your workplace conflicts and find a peaceable resolution that works for everyone involved.


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