September 2, 2023

Dealing with Workplace Conflict: An Expert's Guide

Whether you like it or not, workplace conflict is a natural part of any working environment.

It can be caused by a variety of factors, such as personality clashes, disagreements over work assignments, or competition for resources. While conflict can be stressful and disruptive, it can also be an opportunity to learn and grow.

And whilst conflict can be a difficult and uncomfortable experience, it is important to remember that it is not always a bad thing - believe it or not. By learning how to deal with conflict effectively, you can actually create a more positive and productive work environment for everyone.

We were keen to establish the best ways to deal with workplace conflict in a constructive and productive way - and so we turned to the knowledgeable Edua Effiom, founder of face2faceHR - Streatham Hill for some expert advice:

What are the different types of workplace conflict that can arise?

“Workplace conflict can arise due to different working styles, leadership, personality clashes and discrimination. The specific type of conflict that arises will depend on the unique circumstances of the workplace.

There are some specific types of conflict that can help categorise what type of behaviour you’re dealing with - including the followingL

  • Task conflict: A disagreement about the work itself - how to do a task, who should do a task, or the goals of the task.
  • Relationship conflict: This arises from personal differences between people, such as personality clashes, communication problems, or cultural differences.
  • Resource conflict: When there is competition for limited resources, such as time, money, or equipment.
  • Status conflict: This can stem from differences in power or status, such as when someone feels that they are not being treated fairly or that they are not getting the respect they deserve.
  • Value conflict: This type of conflict arises from differences in beliefs or values, such as when someone disagrees with the company's mission or values.

It is important to be able to identify the type of conflict that is occurring in order to find the best way to resolve it. For example, task conflict can often be resolved by brainstorming solutions and finding a compromise. Relationship conflict may require more time and effort to resolve, as it may involve addressing underlying issues such as communication problems or cultural differences.”

Are there any tell-tale signs that founders should look for in their teams?

“Founders should always be monitoring their teams, no matter whether they’re in-person or remotely based. In terms of potential conflict, it’s always best if you can spot things early - and if you’re closely connected to your teams at all times, it should make life easier.

There are less obvious signs that conflict may be present, such as absenteeism, low morale, productivity and quality of work. These attributes are a bit more subtle and wouldn’t necessary determine potential conflict, but addressing signs like these could prevent anything bigger arising in the workplace.

More substantial situations like grievances, disciplinaries and high turnover would indicate that there are issues to do with workplace conflict. As an employer, look for signs of high tension between team members, a drop in communication and maybe an increase in the above low-level signs like absenteeism and decreased productivity.

Worst case scenarios are costly employment tribunals, which naturally all employers want to avoid! But even before that point, you may notice other things like increased turnover with more people leaving the company more frequently.

Above all, it’s how these tell-tale signs are managed - how and when. Addressing things early is key, and founders can prevent them from escalating and damaging the team.”

How can workplace conflict be prevented in the first place?

“There are plenty of strategies that an employer can use to mitigate a conflict. What you decide to do as a founder, will very much depend on when you spot conflict and what type of conflict is present in your workplace.

Rethinking your recruitment strategy may be one idea, ensuring it is effective from the very start. Employers can use psychometric tests and personality profiles to recruit new staff that are a better fit amongst the existing team.

Ongoing training thereafter will ensure you are closely monitoring your team and providing them with the tools and resources required to build a healthier work culture and a good working environment. Training for both management and the rest of the team will keep everyone on the same page - and establishing a line of open communication throughout the company is imperative. Make sure that everyone listens to one another, and everyone within your team feels heard. Is everyone participating in meetings, for example?

Beyond that, there are useful tools like engagement activities, team-building, and employee surveys that can help strengthen the work environment and nurture a healthy relationship with each other. Ensure you are getting feedback from employees and use that to create a positive working environment.”

What are the best ways to resolve workplace conflict?

“There are three main ways to resolve workplace conflict:

  • Informally
  • This involves trying to get the individuals involved around the table to discuss the conflict on hand and work on resolving the specific issues that are causing the problem. It should be done in a relaxed, calm and fair manner, and an employer should always ensure that everyone’s voices are being heard.
  • Mediation and coaching
  • This is an alternative informal routes to resolving conflict, and some employers can use this as a more longer-term tool to manage the conflict and gradually rectify the issues over time.
  • Formally
  • Usually in the form of a grievance process, this should be the last resort of any workplace conflict.”

Are there any legal implications to workplace conflict – if so, what are they?

“Unfortunately, there are far too often many legal implications that arise from workplace conflict, and most are extremely costly, involving employment tribunals and a constructive dismissal claim. A few are outlined below:

  • Harassment: This is based on a protected characteristic, such as race, sex, or religion. Harassment can be verbal, physical, or nonverbal. It can also be done through email, text messages, or social media.
  • Discrimination: This is the unfair treatment of someone based on a protected characteristic. It can include denying someone a job, a promotion or a raise.
  • Retaliation: This happens when someone is punished for complaining about harassment or discrimination and can include being fired, demoted, or denied a promotion.
  • Wrongful termination: This is when someone is fired for an illegal reason, such as their race or sex.
  • Defamation: When someone makes a false statement about you that damages your reputation, which can be done verbally or in writing.
  • Breach of contract: If you have an employment contract, your employer may be liable for breach of contract if they fail to fulfil their obligations under the contract. This could include failing to pay your wages or benefits, or failing to provide you with a safe work environment.”

Should founders be mindful of ethical considerations and why?

“I don’t think it’s too early to ever think about the type of culture that you want to create in your company. Some founders think that startups shouldn’t be concerned with that, but I disagree. A discrimination issue can arise as soon as you recruit more than one person.

In my opinion, employers should think early on about what type of working environment they want to create. Set the foundations right from the offset and start on the right footing. These things are not just something for the employee handbook, but things that founders should be applying to their workplaces from day one.

It’s important to remember that founders must lead by example. ED&I is not just a buzz word. If leaders can demonstrate their commitment and set a solid structure, it can make a huge difference to the overall company, and in turn reduce any potential conflict moving forward.”

Can you describe some best practices for managing workplace conflict?

“There are lots of best practices that I think would really help startup teams manage their conflict.

Again, start from the offset. Consider your recruitment strategies and think about whether they are ensuring you create a balanced team. Establish good communication throughout your teams. Enforce 1-2-1s and team meetings on a regular basis so that you’re closely connected with your team at all times.

If there is conflict in your workplace, initiate early intervention through informal routes (i.e. mediation or coaching). Also make sure you have proper policies and procedures in place to deal with things like harassment and bullying etc. This should also be coupled with training for your teams and management.

It’s that careful balance of keeping a relaxed, safe, comfortable culture where employees can thrive at work - but also making sure you deal with issues formally enough when necessary to send out a clear message and keep your business is proper working order.”

Contact Edua

To get in touch with Edua and discuss how she can help you manage your HR, click here, or get in touch for a personal introduction.

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