Interpersonal Conflict and Open Communication in the Workplace

What is conflict?

“A disagreement through which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concern.”

Conflict in the workplace can arise for any number of reasons. It can stem from things like not having the right information, personal and cultural differences in values or opinions, or even external stress such as unrelated personal issues.

Let’s start by saying that conflict in the workplace is normal and healthy. Although conflicts can often be resolved by the involved parties, the resources an organization has in place to settle these conflicts can set the tone for the way resolutions are handled.

Setting the foundation
This can be as simple as ensuring there are clear communication channels between leaders, employees, and teams. For example, are employees able to communicate with their leaders or managers on a regular basis? Is there enough time scheduled during team meetings to discuss challenges and possible solutions? Does the culture support healthy feedback, discussion, and collaboration?

Before a project
Before beginning a particularly large or complicated project, team members can sit down together to anticipate conflicts and develop solutions to prevent conflicts from escalating. For example, if conflict arises team members can designate a devil’s advocate whose purpose is to consider and prompt discussion of the challenges without choosing sides. This role could alternate during meetings so everyone becomes comfortable with it. Alternatively, all team members can be asked to offer pros and cons on an issue so people feel free to argue both sides without having to pick.

Completing a project
When completing a project, team members can sit down together to debrief and openly discuss the successes and challenges. If a project was particularly difficult, team members can complete an anonymous form or survey to share their feedback. If necessary, new processes can be put in place to ensure the root of the conflict can be avoided next time. Encouraging a team-building activity led by the team leader, like a team lunch or after work drinks, is another great way to close a project on a positive note.

Whatever conflict resolution approach is taken, having open communication channels in place at all role levels and project stages is vital to promote trust, transparency, and engagement for all employees.

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