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The workplace brings a lot of people together from many different backgrounds and with a lot of viewpoints, which increases the chances of conflict arising in the workplace. Having these different ideals and points of view is a great way to strengthen the business, making sure all avenues are thought about and covered. This is a great opportunity, but it’s not without risks, as if conflicts are allowed to escalate, then the environment can become negative – not just for those involved, but others in the team and business. 
Keeping the work environment conflict-free isn’t easy, but there are processes and approaches that can minimise the risk of anything getting out of hand, as well as resolving any issues that arise. Figuring out what the conflict is about, and how these situations arise, can help reduce the chance of more in the future, which makes for a better atmosphere for everyone. 

Identifying Conflict At Work 

Conflict can take many forms, and some of those aren’t immediately obvious. It’s also important to recognise when to step in and when to trust employees to be able to resolve their differences on their own. 
 
Intervention should be a last resort, as being too involved can make people feel like they’re not valued or trusted. At the same time, you need to be available to offer support, and this is a skill that many leaders find difficult to learn and master. 
 
Some of the occasions when conflict can be identified are: 
 
With a breakdown in communication 
Discussions becoming frequently heated 
Periods of absences increase 
Results decrease, or mistakes become increasingly common 

What Kind Of Conflict Can Be Found At Work? 

In trying to keep a positive work environment, it’s important to look at the relationship of employees within a team, how teams interact with each other and the relationship between the organisation as a whole and its people. This means conflict can arise in a number of places – and in plenty of ways. 
Conflict can take many forms, such as: 
 
Arguments between team members 
Not listening to other opinions 
Insulting, aggressive behaviour 
Ignoring the needs and wellbeing of other teams and workers 
Assuming authority or priority over another 
A lack of respect between employees. 
 
There are many more examples of how conflict can become known in a business, and while any instance might start small and be contained to a small group of people, it can quickly spiral out of control. The spread of any conflict is one of the biggest concerns a leader faces, and how they manage these situations, and it all starts with spotting the signs. 

What Does Conflict Do To People At Work? 

Conflict and constant arguments have a huge effect on mental health. Even those who enjoy a chaotic and busy atmosphere will suffer after prolonged exposure to a negative environment that is described as positive to disguise what is really going on. 
 
What are some of the effects of conflict at work? 
 
Less motivation to complete work 
Less incentive to turn up to work 
Loss of confidence 
Higher levels of stress 
Longer periods of sickness 
Lower self worth 
 
Any of the above effects alone can have a serious impact on your business, but when multiple people are suffering from conflict, or multiple feelings from a situation, you’ll quickly find results suffer and people unwilling to put the effort in as they once did. Managing their health and wellbeing can be a part of creating a positive working environment, and that requires any conflicts to be addressed and resolved as soon as possible. 

The Five Dysfunctions Within A Team 

Once you know what forms conflict can take, and what effect it can have on employees, it’s possible to dive even deeper into the root causes of conflict. Once you understand why conflict arises, beyond just a differing point of view, steps can be taken to reduce the risk of damaging or negative environments arising. 
 
There are five dysfunctions within a team, or wider business, that can lead to a form of conflict. One of these dysfunctions can cause problems with productivity, results and the atmosphere workers encounter each day, but if they’re left unchecked, it could lead to other dysfunctions appearing, too. 
 
This feeds back into knowing when, as a leader, you should step in to resolve a situation before it gets out of hand and escalates. 

1. Lack Of Trust 

A lack of trust within a team, between teams or through the wider business can be a huge source of conflict. This could arise from many reasons, such as not appearing vulnerable or unsuitable for the job, being unable to accept help or being unwilling to look beyond their own experiences. 
 
The knock-on effect of lacking trust in a team is that workers won’t offer to help each other for fear of being wrong or shot down, and this creates an imbalance of power and status. 
 
The same holds true for relationships between teams, managers and staff and even the business as a whole to how employees are treated. Just one instance with a lack of trust can sow the seeds for further instances to arise, making it a much deeper hole to escape. 

2. Fear Of Conflict 

One of the greatest things about building a team is the range of experiences, views and ideas those employees bring. It means there’s an opportunity to broaden horizons and come up with new processes and methods, but if people fear the reaction they may receive by voicing or acting upon their ideas and experiences, it means those opportunities fade away. 
Fear of conflict can also occur between staff of different levels, and this could see their confidence in company policies and procedures drop. This then promotes private conversations where issues can fester and take on a life of their own, and nothing ever gets sorted. 

3. Lack Of Commitment 

A lack of commitment can be devastating for any team or business. With a negative environment, staff could suffer from lower motivation to complete tasks on time and to the right standard. When this happens, the team is going to suffer through poor results and others taking on extra work to accommodate the members not performing. 
 
The same is true between teams, when one doesn’t meet deadlines or commit to the tasks as another does. It increases stress and invites confused priorities for all involved. 
 
On a business level, if there isn’t enough consideration given to the wellbeing of staff, employees will find it difficult to continue to perform at the level expected. These people will look for more fulfilling opportunities, or coast along if that suits their interests. They look for the same commitment they give to the organisation to be returned. 

4. Avoidance Of Accountability 

Accountability is often the backbone of a team or business. Each member has to be accountable for the work they do, as problems arise when there are no consequences to not meeting deadlines or completing tasks. 
 
If tasks aren’t completed, it can lead to other work being delayed or wrong. Teams often rely on each other to do their part to ensure their own tasks are able to be done correctly or to the right standard. Without this accountability, anything can be delayed or wrong and there would be little incentive or possibility to resolve it. 
 
The problem with this is it creates complacency – not only with the people not being held accountable, but also with others who feel there is little reason to do the work if everyone isn’t being treated in the same way. This is a problem that can cripple an organisation from top to bottom. 

5. Inattention To Results 

An inattention to results can bring conflict where some people feel others aren’t pulling their weight, and this affects their work. Details are important for many tasks, and the knock-on effect when they’re wrong means tasks or projects relating to them are wrong, too. 
 
If this isn’t addressed, the results-driven employees will look to make their own lives easier in other teams or businesses. Results with inaccuracies can also lead to the wrong business decisions being made, and this has big implications. Competitors can get ahead of you, the wrong decisions are made, and areas for improvement – or development in the case of staff – are missed. 

Addressing Conflict And Creating A Better Atmosphere At Work 

Understanding the source of conflict is only the first step. Knowing what to do about conflict and how to resolve it in the best way is another matter, and while there are techniques and processes that can help, it’s important to remember that every situation is different and you have to adapt appropriately. 
 
Changing the culture of a team or business is not a quick fix, but it can pay dividends. In some cases, giving the people involved in the conflict the tools to resolve it themselves can bring better results than handling it yourself. 
 
Knowing when to step in also depends on the dynamic of your team and how well you know the people involved in the situation. 

Creating A Platform For Open And Honest Communication 

One of the best ways to create a positive attitude in a team or business is to make sure everyone can speak openly and honestly about what they’re feeling and what they need to complete their work. 
Recognise the different needs and views of your team or employees. It might not be possible to appease everyone, but making sure they are heard and their views considered will make them feel valued and encouraged to speak up again in the future, and that could bring a great idea or perspective that unlocks advantages. 
 
These platforms can be open forums or private channels, such as meetings or feedback forms. Anonymity can be helpful, especially when people are unsure of how their feedback or thoughts will be received. 
 
Any retorts or belittling what people say will have the opposite effect and encourage further conflict. 

Showing Trust And Respect 

Communication is important, but trusting and respecting staff, team members and other teams goes beyond how you speak or listen to other people. How you react to other people will influence whether people feel you’re approachable or not, and how you conduct yourself around the workplace will have an impact. 
 
Simple things such as acknowledging someone’s personal space, not pushing in front of others, waiting in line for equipment, and other actions show respect to other people and the business. 

Setting Realistic Goals And Expectations 

As a leader, it’s important to set goals and targets that your staff should aim to meet in their work. When these are made clear, it helps to ensure there’s accountability, as there should be a reason if these are not met. 
 
While unexpected situations do arise and make some targets unfeasaible at a time, communication makes it clear that this is understandable, ensuring the worker feels confident to approach you with problems or obstacles that you can help overcome. 
 
At the same time, the goals should be realistic – and just because one person can meet a goal doesn’t mean someone else can. Taking skill level, experience and other factors into account means you can tailor these targets to each worker, and this shows they are a real person to you, rather than just a number. 

Investing In The Future Of Your Employees 

There’s no better way to show you value employees than by investing in them and improving their skills. Whether it’s to improve their competence in the role – and results from their work as a result – or with a wider view on where their career might go, it’s going to garner more appreciation and loyalty than many other methods you might take. 
 
Some people argue that the investment is lost when people move on, but that’s not always the case if the results they bring in the interim are stronger than expected. At the same time, without that investment in their skills and future, these people will move on faster when a better opportunity comes along. 

Would You Like To Know More About Addressing Conflict In The Workplace? 

Conflict in the workplace is a surefire way to reduce productivity and create an environment that no one wants to be a part of. This could have drastic consequences over time, including losing talent to competitors that will harm your business more than expected, with a drop in your performance being met by growth elsewhere. 
 
Resolving conflict at work can be challenging and difficult, and may require changes throughout the business, but presents an opportunity to make big changes that creates a much better environment for everyone. To find out more about conflict and ways to address it, get in touch with a member of the HR Download team. 
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