Assessing Workplace Conflict

Assessing Workplace Conflict

There can be many types of conflict in the workplace. Work groups, teams, or departments may disagree about the best way to proceed. Employees may disagree about decisions management or their supervisors have made. There can also be conflict between two employees about a project or option.

Sometimes conflicts occur because there is a lack of information or data. Other times, conflict results from a lack of resources, and the conflict becomes a zero-sum game. If one side wins, the other side loses. Occasionally, conflict may be encouraged by a manager who believes that the competition is useful and will result in new ideas.

While many conflicts can be resolved through analysis and communication, some conflicts simply seem mutually unresolvable. When this happens it usually will require someone in authority mandating a solution.

There are several questions that should be asked when assessing and addressing workplace conflict:

1. Is it truly a conflict or is it a pseudo-conflict based on misinformation and poor communication? Are the perceptions of each group accurate or is there more agreement than initially realized?

2. Have the issues and goals of each side been clearly identified?

3. Are there important “superordinate” goals that are being overlooked by each side?

4. Does everyone understand the cost of the conflict to the unit or organization?

5. Are there possibilities for de-escalating the conflict and finding a compromise that is acceptable to each side? If not, how will the solution be determined (boss makes decision, majority rules, other ways)? Note: In workplace conflict, organizational goals and needs take precedence. The object is not that everyone feels good.

6. Once a decision has been reached, goals for evaluating it along with a specific timeline should be established.

From the staff perspective, all employees have an obligation to adhere to the decision. Never try to sabotage the plan or be less than supportive. You may not fully agree, but it really isn’t your call. You are paid to do a job, not to second guess your boss or administration. And, as an employee, it is your responsibility to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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