Making Workplace Conflict Work for You: Three Key Strategies

By Meaghan Welfare, Conflict Management Practitioner

In today’s workplace we can be certain of only three things: there will be change, there will be stress and there will be conflict. It’s inevitable. As we navigate through our work days, we are confronted with conflict on different scales: perhaps someone drank the last cup of coffee and didn’t make more, maybe someone jammed the photocopier and walked away, or maybe you are experiencing bullying and harassment. The fact of the matter is that conflict has an ubiquitous influence on our working relationships. A recent survey conducted by CPP Global found that employees spend an average of 2.8 to 3.3 hours a week dealing with conflict, (low level and un-escalated conflict) and human resource workers spend upwards of 51% of their week addressing conflicts. A 1996 study demonstrated that 42% of a manager’s time is spent on conflict-related negotiations.

So, the million dollar question…What can we do about this?  While conflict is never truly preventable, we can learn effective approaches for maximizing positive outcomes and harnessing conflict to make it work for us.

Meaningful Conflict

Good employees and strong leadership are those who are not only aware of their conflict and communication styles, they are also able to direct those styles and skills towards win-win outcomes and positive working relationships. Let’s face it: the work can be fulfilling, but if the relationships are bad the ship will sink quickly. Anchor yourself at work with the knowledge and skills you need to participate in meaningful conflict.

Three tips for engaging conflict at work:

1) Know thy self:  If you know your default response to conflict, you will be better prepared to deal with conflicts when they arise. There are many benefits to knowing your style, including; the ability to move seamlessly between styles based on the situation; the ability to adapt your style based on the style of those you are in conflict with; and an increased confidence with your ability to deal with conflict.

2) Know thy organizational conflict culture: All companies, organizations and workplaces have unique cultures of conflict. Do you work in an environment where conflict is embraced and seen as a force multiplier, or is conflict avoided at all costs?  If you know the culture, you will be better equipped when conflict arises and be a positive contributor to the culture.

3) Educate thy self:  You are the master of your own destiny. Invest in your future by attending workshops and trainings that will enhance your interpersonal skills. Not all workplaces can afford to send their staff to outside training, so employees may have to take matters into their own hands. Many not-for profit organizations offer inexpensive workshops on conflict management and communication skills. Do your research and invest in your future.

Recommended Books: 

Resolving Conflicts at Work by Kenneth Cloke

Conflict Resolution for the Helping Professions by Allan Barsky

Additional Resources:

1) Meaghan will be presenting at the upcoming CARE4YOU Edmonton. Click here for more info.

2) Book: Resilience, Balance and Meaning Click here for more info

3) 6 hour Compassion Fatigue Webinar: Walking the Walk: Creative Tools for Transforming Compassion Fatigue. Click here for more information.

Sources:CPP Global, Workplace conflict and how businesses can harness it to thrive; Watson, C., & Hoffman, R. (1996) Managers as Negotiators, Leadership Quarterly , 7 (1).


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