Workplace conflict is unavoidable. Eventually, when you put people together, even in a virtual space, friction happens. Ensuring that your team can communicate and disagree in healthy ways is crucial to ensuring teams work well together.  To some extent, a healthy amount of conflict is even good for the team and good for your organization. As long as it’s about work, it’s a good sign that your employees are engaged and passionate about what they do.

However, resolving conflicts and working through them in a healthy way can build relationships, can build teams, and can help you to create a healthier and more productive work environment.

With that in mind, these 5 tips to improving workplace conflict resolution in your teams can get you started – whether people are working in the office or remotely.

How to improve workplace conflict resolution

Offer emotional intelligence training

Emotional intelligence has taken off as a tool for leadership. And, largely that’s a good thing. Being aware of your own emotions and of those around you can help team leads, managers, and even the CEO better understand and allocate the company’s most important resource, its people. At the same time, the same traits that make people good leaders make people good at working together. The ability to notice, identify, understand, and manage your own feelings and those of others is critical when you come into conflict with your teammates. Ensuring that leadership has those skills to step in and delegate when friction occurs can help.

Offering workshops and courses to ensure that teams can recognize those emotions in each other, can see where their opponent is coming from, and can understand the emotions their teammates are experiencing can help teams to resolve conflict for themselves. Even when matters are personal.

Invest in your team design

There are plenty of tools to help leaders create teams based on personality, communication styles, and culture. These range from personality assessments to DISC workshops and assessments. All of them allow you to see how people react, how they work together, and how they compare with other people. That allows you to match people based on their ability to communicate and to do so well. Some people will always be opposites, some people will never match work styles.

That’s important as even mismatched work styles can create considerable conflict. For example, putting a self-driven person who wants ownership of their work in a team with someone who needs delegation but is good at doing quality work is asking for trouble. You’d want to divide those people up based on the work they’re doing, the people they’re working with, and their leaders. Simple DISC assessments and team building guidelines can help you get started. However, it eventually falls to your leaders to ensure that information is utilized and put to work.

Encourage communication at all levels

Eventually, many of the causes of workplace conflict relate to poor communication. Expectations are not set or are not met, favoritism is a problem, leaders don’t communicate well, people don’t pull their weight, they pull too much of it. Or, family and personal drama comes to work from home.

Whatever the cause, leadership is often responsible for recognizing, diagnosing, and putting a stop to that drama. For example, if colleagues are showing visible friction, leaders should be able to stop and communicate about that. Doing so and getting honest answers means having an established rapport with the team.

If you haven’t yet, work on building trust, being a reliable leader, and creating consistent touchpoints enabling communication. That can take a long time to build, and it may require offering coaching and mentoring to leaders who aren’t yet good at communication.

Share your conflict resolution policy

You know that conflict eventually happens. So, it makes sense to create and share a conflict resolution policy. Sharing this with teams, before they experience conflict, means that people know what to do, what next steps are, and how to react in case of a conflict. While that doesn’t mean people will take those steps, it means they have the options available to them. What does a conflict resolution policy include?

  • Both people should sit and listen to each other, giving the other adequate time to voice their opinion without interruption or displays of emotion
  • Both parties should be polite and non-violent. The goal should be escalation of conflict over winning
  • A clear line of escalation in case either party breaches code of conduct
  • A clear line of escalation in case this is a work matter, with team leads and accountable parties willing to step up and to intervene
  • The option of arbitration. E.g., HR may be willing to mediate. In other cases, teams themselves prefer to sit together and have a conflict resolution meeting. This might involve discussing problems as a team. It might involve making hard decisions, like asking a team member to move to another team. However, teams have to know they are empowered to have these types of meetings and to make these types of decisions.

There’s no perfect way to handle conflict. Unfortunately, good decisions almost always depend on the situation at hand. However, you can create policy to ensure people are protected, that they have outlets, and that there’s a clear line to ask for help.

Offer third party arbitration in case things escalate

Not every employee can work out conflict on their own. Not everyone is emotionally mature enough to argue well. Workplace bullying, arguments, and conflict can escalate. It will get in the way of morale, productivity, and the kind of company culture you want to build. You have to have the option to arbitrate, to escalate, and to take measures up to and including letting people go from the company if they are not willing to work within company guidelines or to resolve conflicts.

Of course, the goal of arbitration should always be to resolve conflict in a humane and positive manner. Helping people to work through differences is always better than deciding one side is right and the other is wrong – unless one side is clearly being harmful. However, making those decisions requires insight, judgment, and good leadership.

Conflict is unavoidable, but good practices, good communication, and humane approaches make it easier for everyone.  Hopefully, these 5 tips to improving workplace conflict resolution help in your office.

About the Author: Jocelyn Pick