Conflict often arises as a result of communication — or really, miscommunication. Staff can enter a project with a lack of clarity about who’s supposed to do what that the situation spirals out of control, and conflict can't help but rear its ugly head. Conflicts also stem from power struggles, limited resources and simple conflicts of interest. While most managers want to prevent conflict from happening, it isn't always possible. But there are ways to minimize its likelihood and its impact.
Include a code of conduct in the employee handbook if one doesn’t already exist, and cover its contents in new-hire orientation to ensure everyone on staff is clear on your expectations in workplace behavior. This code of conduct can include anything from harassment to bullying to inappropriate language. No matter the content, it puts everyone on the same page, so to speak.
Define roles and responsibilities clearly for all staff members. Do the same for goals and expectations. This can take a lot of time and energy, but it prevents confusion among staff. If, for example, someone feels that a colleague is delegating work, it can plant the seeds for conflict. Communicate information clearly, concisely and timely.
Remind staff how their personal goals fit into the overall goal for the company. Not only does this add context to the role each member plays in an organization, but it further clarifies your expectations, as well.
Model professional behavior to staff by treating everyone equally. When you start to show favoritism, those not on the receiving end can feel alienated, affecting their attitude and increasing the chances of conflict between colleagues.
Institute an open-door policy to encourage communication in the workplace. When communication breaks down, conflict soon follows, affecting work performance, productivity and even retention.
Cultivate a team environment where everyone’s opinion is equal, and assure staff that everyone brings different and essential talents to the table. When someone feels undervalued for her input, it can lead to resentment, which could breed conflict within the team. If a colleague is brushing off another colleague's opinion, nip it in the bud as soon as possible.
Check — and continually check, for that matter — that everyone has the resources they need to get their job done. Does each person have enough space? Do they have enough time? How are the office supplies looking? It may not seem that important, especially when companies are asking employees to do more with less, but little things can sometimes instigate a conflict.
- Conflict isn’t always a bad thing. When it does occur, you get a better understanding of what people find important, and the resolution of the conflict can build stronger relationships in the end, notes Tim Scudder, CEO of Personal Strengths USA, a workplace conflicts consulting firm.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.