8 strategies for managing workplace conflict

Conflict in the office can be a threat to morale, productivity, and in the very worst cases, employee safety.

In any office or workplace environment, disagreements are virtually guaranteed to arise at some point - it's simply a natural consequence of multiple personalities coming together to work on a project. People will often have differing opinions on how to carry out tasks most effectively, and that's okay. Workplace disagreements become a serious problem, however, when they escalate into outright conflict or argument. Human resources managers should strive at all times to ensure that the office is a positive, and most importantly, safe place to work. Conflict in the office can be a threat to morale, productivity, and in the very worst cases, employee safety.

Consequently, it's imperative that human resources professionals have effective strategies in place for mediating and resolving any workplace conflicts, before they get out of hand. If you are opening a new business or joining a human resources team for the first time, or are simply looking for ways to improve your company's dispute management protocols, check out this handy list of tips for handling workplace conflict below.

1. Have a clear policy concerning acceptable behavior
Preventing and mediating office conflict starts with a clear and detailed policy delineating between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. The policy should be written down and easily accessible to all employees at all times, Forbes suggested. Make it clear that aggressive behavior - such as yelling - violent behavior and verbal abuse are categorically unacceptable at all times. This may seem like common sense, but it helps if there is absolutely no confusion as to what your team will tolerate. Remind employees on a routine basis of the policies and outline the potential punishments for any infractions.

2. Set up a way to resolve the issue
Despite having a clear policy in place, conflicts that escalate into arguments will still occur from time to time. There should be a zero tolerance policy toward violence - if this occurs the individual in question should be let go immediately. However if the dispute involves shouting or clear tension, it's a good ideas for a human resources professional to step in and mediate the situation. The most effective way to do this will be situational, depending on the type of argument and the personalities involved. Holding a meeting with HR present in which both parties are encouraged to present their side of the story is one potential solution – however, some may not be comfortable stating their case in front of their opposers.

"There should be a zero tolerance policy toward violence."

3. Ensure everyone remains calm
If you do conduct a mediation involving all parties, ensure that everyone remains calm throughout the process. Make it clear to everyone involved that further anger or aggression will not be tolerated. Calm discussion is a much more effective way to resolve a problem, as it allows individuals to step back, listen and assess the issue at hand, Mediate.com explained. When a discussion is inflected with anger or tension people will naturally become defensive and hostile, curtailing the chances of a peaceful resolution.

4. Listening is key
The most effective way to resolve a conflict is to ensure that everyone listens to each other fully, Boston.com explained. One way to make sure that everyone listens properly is to allocate each party a set amount of time to speak, uninterrupted, so they can get their point across. If every individual truly listens to the other person's point of view, they'll garner a deeper understanding of why the other party behaved in the way that they did, and they'll be more inclined to find a peaceful resolution to the situation.

Mediation is key to resolving difficult office disputes.

5. Allow ranting, within reason
While shouting or hostility should of course be prohibited during a mediation session, individualized conflict resolution meetings should also be used as safe spaces to release tension surrounding a situation in a controlled way. This means letting each person rant a little - within reason - if they need to, without displaying aggression, HR Morning stated. It will help the employee get everything off his or her chest, and once the tension has been released, the chances of a peaceful resolution will increase exponentially.

6. Don't fill every silence
In terms of acting as a mediator, you or your team members may feel compelled to fill each silence, especially because the atmosphere will likely be tense. This is a mistake, however. Silence can actually be beneficial, as it gives each participant the time to think over their next response in detail. As HR Morning pointed out, if you allow the participants to fill in the silence at their own pace, you'll likely find that they soon open up.

7. Make goals clear
You should make the goals of the session very clear, before it begins. State in a clear way that you wish to find a resolution to the issue that suits everyone involved. Also make it clear that if any aggression was displayed throughout the dispute, such behavior will not be tolerated again in the future. As HR Morning detailed, it's important that each and every member of the meeting leaves the room with a clear idea of how to move forward, and the best way to achieve this is to establish goals for each person moving forward.

8. Use the situation as an opportunity to learn
Each and every conflict, and resolution, can provide an opportunity for growth and education for all involved. Assess the situation and identify areas where each participant can learn and grow from the experience, Forbes asserted.

In light of all of these potential solutions, it is nevertheless important to keep in mind that there is no substitute for experience. "Our experienced HR Generalists and Managers have developed a toolkit throughout their career of strategies for dealing with different types of conflict," says Kate Harris, Division Director of Beacon Hill's HR Division in Boston.

"Tailoring a response to the temperaments of the individuals involved is more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach. The first time a junior HR professional has to deal with conflict can be daunting, which is why having a mentor to help an up-and-comer gain exposure to these types of situations and learn by observing can be very beneficial."

These guidelines will assist in you in dealing with workplace conflict, but make sure that you bring in an experienced member of your HR or management team, if possible.

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