Financial Data
Updated 26 Feb 2020

Resolving office conflict

There’s nothing worse than spending your working day avoiding a difficult colleague or listening to two conflicting colleagues bicker their way through meeting after meeting.

30 September 2012  Share  0 comments  Print

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Conflict in the workplace can be extremely disruptive and have a negative effect on productivity and staff morale.

Conflicting parties can exhibit a low concern for social relationships, which in turn creates an unsettled and divided workplace. It’s important to approach resolution in a way that suits both parties and the reason for their conflict.

Benefits of conflict resolution

Done effectively, conflict resolution can lead to:

  • Increased understanding
  • Increased group cohesion 
  • Improved self-knowledge.

The overall benefit is a more peaceful workplace and happier colleagues.

Styles of conflict management

There are six recognised methods of settling workplace disagreements (Thomas Kilmann):

1. Competitive
This is effective when the conflicting parties both have a high degree of concern for the task at hand, over and above their personal differences.

This method can be used positively against negative staff or troublemakers in the group. Eliminating negative group members can revitalise other group members and insure task completion.

However, this approach can produce deconstructive conflict and it is very much a “me” and not “we” oriented approach. It also can encourage a blame culture within the organisation.

2. Collaborative 
This is a win-win scenario that encourages concern for the task and social relationships.

It addresses the problem through effective confrontation and attempts to calm the emotional aspects of the conflict.

The possible negatives are that it requires exceptional communication skills, it can be time consuming and it requires mutually agreeable parties. It also won’t work if the parties have overly competitive self-seeking interests.
3. Compromising
While this approach promotes improved working conditions, it isn’t aimed at optimal output. It can be positive depending on the situation, and is a good method of resolution via negotiation when both sides are satisfied.

However, the approach shows moderate concern for task accomplishment and can evoke ambivalence, Compromise can lead to both sides losing what they really want.
4. Accommodating 
This approach to resolution shows a high concern for social relationships. It encourages groups to compromise, encouraging further cohesiveness.

Possible negative outcomes are that the approach doesn’t focus on task accomplishment and encourages an appearance of harmony. Appeasing members may lead to sacrifices in productivity

5. Avoidance
This is sometimes a necessary tactic, especially when tempers are a factor from combative group members.

It can be useful for low-power group members if confrontation would prove more damaging. 

However, it reflects a low concern for the task at hand, a low concern for social relationships and encourages the parties to shrink from conflict. In most cases, avoidance is counterproductive.

6. Interest-based relational approach
This style of conflict resolution respects individual differences while helping people avoid becoming too entrenched in a fixed position. However, there are rules that must be adhered to:

  • Make sure that good relationships are the first priority
  • Keep people and problems separate 
  • Pay attention to the interests that are being presented 
  • Listen first; talk second 
  • Set out the facts
  • Explore options together

The conflict resolution process

  1. Set the scene
  2. Gather information 
  3. Agree about the problem 
  4. Brainstorm possible solutions 
  5. Negotiate a solution

Conflict resolution should always be managed with confidentiality and sensitivity.

When people's integrity and belief system is being questioned, defence mechanisms are a natural reaction.

Try to maintain all business relationships while at the same time achieving your goal.

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