Master conflict resolution in the workplace

By Scott Simone
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The Brief
Workplace conflict is not only a bottom line killer, it eliminates collaboration. But there are ways to mitigate or even prevent friction between coworkers. 

Editor’s note: This is the second of two pieces in our series on recognizing and mitigating workplace friction.

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In the first part of this series, we discussed how office conflict is killing your bottom line—to the tune of $50,000 to $500,000 per instance of conflict. Economic havoc aside, healthy co-working relationships are critical to merely executing basic workplace functions. A survey by the Corporate Executive Board Company found that, regardless of industry, 60 percent of workers require regular coordination with 10 or more people to complete their daily tasks.

Beyond facilitating day-to-day operations, collaboration, as we’ve seen before, drives innovation. According to the study mentioned above, employees who share knowledge with one another are two-and-a-half times more likely to come up with new and better ways of meeting goals. 

“Beyond facilitating day-to-day operations, collaboration, as we’ve seen before, drives innovation.”

Positive work environments have also been shown to boost employee engagement. And engagement equals revenue. A study of 64 organizations revealed that those with highly engaged employees achieve twice the annual net income of organizations whose employees lag behind in this area. 

So, how can executives preempt workplace conflict, or, if necessary, mitigate it when it does occur?

Fun Matters

Tension in the workplace breeds conflict. But even if friction doesn’t exist, a stressful environment kills collaboration dead in its tracks, which is not what employees want: Research has shown that 88 percent of the millennial generation, and 60 percent of boomers, want afun and social work environment. Another study found that employees who experienced fun in the workplace were more satisfied with their job.

Employers can reduce stress and boost office socializing in simple ways. Get your staff together for a communal lunch or happy hour, anything that allows them to talk about things that are, you know, not work. Music in the workplace can also boost morale (and productivity). So, even if it’s just for a mid-afternoon break, crank the boom box or let employees work their way through Spotify playlists. 

Damage Control

Of course, when you spend eight hours a day with the same group of people, conflict is bound to spark every now and then. But there are healthy ways of mitigating these arguments.

First, educate your employees on how to deal with conflict, and make sure minor problems are addressed before they escalate. Co-workers should be able to discuss problems with each other in the early stages of a conflict, before it explodes.

Second, rethink how you mediate problems between colleagues: If employees approach you with a problem, allow both parties involved to air their grievances sensitively. There should be no winner or loser in an argument, and both sides should leave your presence feeling that the underlying problem was addressed.

“Rethink how you mediate problems between colleagues. There should be no winner or loser in the argument.”

Finally, if need be, consider hiring an outside ombudsman—someone who can come in a few days a week to talk with employees, ask how things are going and counsel those who are stressed out or aggravated, nipping any potential problems in the bud. 

Scott Simone is assistant editor at Westchester Magazine and associate editor of 914INC., a quarterly business lifestyle magazine. This is his second post for RelSci.

RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. Read our white paper  on the new way to approach teamwork and bizdev. 
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