How can we be proactive about addressing conflict in the workplace?

How can we be proactive about addressing conflict in the workplace?

There are many ways to address conflicts in the workplace, before they turn into bigger concerns and more serious obstacles for your organization. The starting point is the ability to reframe the issue of conflict: develop an “attitude of resolution” that views conflict as an opportunity to solve a problem rather than as a confrontation to be avoided. Meaningful conflict resolution involves cooperative problem solving among all levels of an organization. Done right, it can result in better teamwork and communication, greater productivity, enhanced employment law compliance, reduced litigation risk, and a host of other workplace and business benefits.

In conflict resolution training, we address several foundational elements to problem-solving that support productive communication.

  • First, consider striving to instill a culture of “enlightened self-interest.” This concept helps people realize that by addressing others’ needs, you can benefit.
  • Second, separate the person from the problem. We try to avoid focusing on what is wrong or what went wrong. Instead, we can objectively note what the problem is, its impact, and positively state a preferred outcome.
  • Third, separate positions from interests.
    Positions are surface statements of where someone stands, and they rarely contain the ingredients of flexibility and creativity that are endemic to effective problem solving.
    Interests explain why someone takes a certain position - a party's underlying reasons, values or motivations for wanting something.
    For example, an employee may say they can’t work with a particular coworker – that’s their position. But what are the work-related reasons the relationship is failing? Only after developing a full understanding of those concrete interests, can we hope to achieve a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Underlying each of these steps is a component of emotional intelligence. Using an emotionally intelligent approach to conflict resolution through training creates a process that turns a subjectively challenging issue into an objective problem that yields to problem solving.

In training, we work with managers to effectively use these techniques in addressing big and small, collective and individual, issues arising in the workplace. And we work with employees to approach conflict resolution in a parallel manner, so everyone in the workplace, regardless of role or level, is speaking the same language, viewing issues through a similar lens of opportunity, and working towards aligned communication and relationship goals.

The Littler Learning Group (LLG) provides innovative and impactful solutions for training employees at all levels of an organization on a wide range of employment law topics, including conflict resolution. Please reach out to your Littler contact for support on your particular workforce training needs.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.