5 Tips for Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Submitted by: Robert Half 

We’re all human, and as long as we don’t turn into robots, it’s inevitable we’ll occasionally experience conflict in the workplace. But as managers of finance and accounting teams, wouldn't you prefer to oversee an environment where coworkers don’t clash, friction doesn't escalate into headbutting and everyone works to their full abilities?

In an Accountemps survey, CFOs said they spend six hours a week, on average, managing conflicting parties on their staff. Some of the executives (17 percent) say they spend a quarter to more than half of their precious time dealing with conflict in the workplace.

Sound familiar? Just think what you could do with that six hours a week if you didn't have to manage all those disagreements that erode into discord. Follow these five ways to encourage your workers to get along with others in the office:

1. Promote the flow of communication

Putting your head in the sand really doesn't help when there’s conflict in the workplace. Problems rarely resolve themselves on their own and can even become worse if they’re not addressed. So be proactive.

Encourage those on your team who are having difficulty with a coworker to get their disagreements out in the open while they’re still small. Here are some hints you can offer them:

  • Ask your coworker with whom you’re not seeing eye to eye to name a time when it would be convenient for the two of you to meet, in a place where you won't be interrupted.
  • After laying out your point of view on the issue, listen carefully to what the other person has to say, show empathy, avoid interrupting, and ask questions to clarify what was said.
  • Identify points of agreement and disagreement, and ask if your coworker agrees with your assessment.
  • Express your desire to work out a solution and discuss ways to resolve your conflict.

2. Practice what you preach

Managers, of course, need to lead the way with communication. Here are some suggestions executives have to prevent conflicts while building rapport with their teams and colleagues:

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Take an interest without participating in office politics.
  • Nip rumors in the bud by offering accurate and up-to-date clarifications.
  • Project an image of professionalism and good etiquette.
  • Respect unique points of view, and don’t criticize others publicly.
  • Check in regularly, and show how you value other people’s input.
  • Be honest, reliable and direct with your communication style.
  • Build your relationships by inviting others to coffee or lunch outside of the office.

3. Let your team know you can help

A critical component of leadership is developing a sense of what's important for you to do in times of stress.

First of all, tell your employees that if they find themselves in over their head, or if they’ve tried to resolve a conflict and the negative behavior continues to impede their work, they can talk to you. As a higher-up in your organization, you can provide recommendations and bring in another manager or someone from human resources mediation.

Some suggestions for helping people work together:

  • Use your best listening skills so you can readily identify their concerns and the root cause of the problem,
  • Encourage the two sides to put aside their differences and find common ground — such as the desire to help the company to succeed.
  • Make it clear that their cooperation is required, and then continue to monitor the situation so the issue doesn’t fester and become worse.

When people believe their voices will be heard, they are more likely to perform at their best. Communication goes both ways, so inspire a relationship where they give you timely status reports and feedback about difficulties or challenges.

4. View everything as a learning opportunity

Perhaps, conflict in the workplace could be seen in a positive light. For all the grief disagreements can cause, there’s an upside when your workers can learn from them. Differing opinions can stimulate innovation and give added impetus for team building.

Helping to resolve disputes can put those you manage in a better position to assume leadership roles in your company. You can tell a temporary worker who wants to move into a full-time role that tact and diplomacy in dealing with conflict in the workplace can make a good impression on management. Or let an employee know that effectively working well with others can help with career advancement.

5. Criticize gently and praise achievement

In a perfect world, everyone on your staff would be flawless at their jobs. But the reality is that they will make mistakes, get into arguments, experience personnel problems, miss deadlines. When you need to call attention to shortcomings, make it your goal to preserve each individual’s dignity. Meet in private and allow them to explain the problem and what might have led to it. Rather than assigning blame, reframe a mistake or failure as a lesson, and focus on what might be done differently in the future.

All professionals appreciate recognition, particularly when they’ve put in extra time or effort. So celebrate resolution when your team achieves it. Even if they’ve made just small steps, congratulate them on the progress. They’re not robots, after all!

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half Management Resources, the premier provider of senior-level accounting, finance and business systems professionals to supplement companies' project and interim staffing needs. The company has more than 140 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.roberthalfmr.com . Follow our blog at blog.roberthalfmr.com .

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