The Ledger No. 59: Solving Conflict in the Workplace

July 21, 2022 Theresa Rex

manager resolving conflict between two employees at work

Welcome to The Ledger where we sum up the latest finance and accounting news and trends for you. On this week’s entry, we’re diving into the topic of what to do when a conflict arises in the workplace and how to reach a solution that restores harmony to your team. Read on for signs that conflict is brewing at work, solving it, strategies for helping your employees manage negative emotions, and actionable advice on how to have a healthy workplace argument.

solving conflict in the workplace ledger

Identify What’s Causing Conflict on Your Team & Address it ASAP

The only thing worse than finding out your team is embroiled in conflict is finding out that they’ve been at it for a while now. Arguments and power struggles don’t age like fine wine as time goes on – they only get harder to address. Leaders should be on the lookout for signs of team turmoil, like a sense of overall confusion, burnout, and an increase in complaints from employees. These are all common symptoms of a range of bigger problems, like:

  • Understaffing. A familiar root cause of conflict could be a team that’s stretched too thin, especially in the current talent landscape, where organizations are recovering from The Great Resignation and competing for a limited supply of qualified resources.

  • Differing work environment preferences. It is no secret that workers remain reluctant to return to the office. If your team shares this reluctance, it could potentially be a source of resentment and conflict at work.

  • Miscommunication. A team is only as effective as their communication, so be on the lookout for crossed wires and missed signals, which might indicate that you need to readjust your own communication style or find ways to facilitate better communication among your employees.

  • Generation gaps. As Gen Z enters the workforce in greater numbers, armed with different values, attitudes, and technical skills than their older counterparts, you may have some friction to contend with while adjustments are made.

  • Mismatched work ethics and styles. One teammate’s “clock-punching” is another’s work-life balance, and the reverse is also true. For every employee you manage, you will find a different working style and priority set. As their leader, you’ll want to make sure a lopsided workload -- in perception or reality -- doesn’t develop as a result.

  • A lack of role or culture clarity. Many conflicts are the result of a difference between what you or your organization expects from your team and how much of that is clear to the employees on that team. A lack of clarity is often at the heart of most of the conflicts on this list.

For more strategies for rooting out the cause of your team’s low morale and how to address it quickly, read the full article on SHRM.org.

Insist on a Fair Fight – Facilitate Constructive Arguments Your Team

Believe it or not, you want your team to argue. Otherwise, resentments fester and can eventually crystallize into a toxic workplace culture. As a leader, it is your job to keep those debates healthy and constructive. Here's how you can allow team members to engage in debate to bring inevitable disagreements to a satisfactory resolution:

  • Know when to intervene. Allowing teams to hash out their own problems is one thing but standing back while a brawl unfolds is something else entirely.

  • Foster curiosity. Encourage your team to ask more often than they tell. Curiosity in place of criticism starts with asking “why?”

  • Provide training. Healthy conflict resolution doesn’t just develop as a result of sheer willpower. Professional development in the form of conflict resolution training ensures everyone knows how to keep it above the belt.

  • Make room for everyone. The organizational benefits of diverse viewpoints are well-known, partly because complacency can develop in friction-free settings. Encourage differing points of view on your team to reap them.

For more on how to encourage healthy debate at work, and start solving any conflict in the workplace, check out the full article at enterprisetalks.com.

Leadership Tips for Managing Angry Employees When Solving Conflict in the Workplace

Eventually, everyone has a difficult day at work. In 2022, that day – or days – may be coming sooner than you think, and not just for your team. Leaders are certainly included in the 44 percent of the global workforce that report experiencing a lot of stress at work, and given the lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on workers’ already frayed nerves, knowing how to de-escalate heated situations is a critical leadership skill.

  • Check yourself before you dive in. When employees lash out or are combative, it can be easy to reach for the first emotion that inspires in you – often anger or defensiveness. Resist the urge to blow up or shut down, which will only create a negative feedback loop.

  • Cultivate your own understanding. Don’t assume that angry or resentful employees are in simple need of an attitude adjustment. It may be true, but it’s also an oversimplification. Ask yourself if you really have a grasp on the problem, and if you don’t, seek to get one.

  • Collaborate on a solution. Pressure without a vent is an explosion just waiting to happen. Whether it’s the workload, culture or something else, tackling the problem as a team ensures everyone has skin in the game and more motivation to invest in a shared goal.

  • Find your blind spots. If someone were to ask your team if you’re communicative, transparent and equitable in your treatment of the team you manage, would their answers match your own? We all have blind spots. Being humble enough to examine yours will go a long way to cooling hot tempers long-term.

Get the complete blueprint for managing frustrated employees and addressing simmering resentments when you read the full article at hbr.com.

Top Strategies for Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Finally, it’s going to be important for finance leaders to keep a few go-to conflict resolution strategies on hand for tackling thorny workplace dilemmas. Because no two employees, teams, or organizations function – or fight – the same way, there is no universal approach to managing conflict. Enter the Thomas-Kilman conflict resolution model, which presents five essential strategies that can be applied to workplace issues depending on the parameters of the problem and the personalities of those involved.

  • Competing. Recommended as an "emergencies only” strategy, the competing model requires one party to prevail by defeating the other, which is why it’s called a “win-lose” strategy.

  • Collaborating. When there’s more time to untangle conflict, cooperating to find a solution everyone is happy with can be achieved with this strategy.

  • Compromising. Sometimes, it’s possible for everyone to be happy, making the compromising strategy – which seeks a solution everyone can live with instead.

  • Accommodating. Occasionally, one party will have to give more to keep the peace, and that means being able to go with the flow.

  • Avoiding. Another suboptimal strategy, avoiding favors by simply letting go as opposed to remaining mired in unproductive or harmful conflict.

Take a deeper dive into the Thomas-Kilman conflict resolution model over on fool.com.

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