Posts Tagged ‘workplace conflict’

Managers…Don’t Avoid Conflict

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

Of all the skills required to be a successful manager, the art of embracing, sometimes encouraging and then managing conflict is up near the top.  As a manager a good part of your job involves getting people to do things they may not want to do, or work with people they don’t agree with or even like, or discuss ideas that make them mad or go against their beliefs, and on and on. Conflict!  The ability to recognize conflict, understand what’s causing it, and then work through it swiftly will serve you well as a manager. Not dealing with conflict will bring you misery and health problems, and may ultimately lead to your demise.busbox

Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from individuals or groups that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or needs.  Some of the main causes include poor communication, differing values, differing interests, scarce resources, personality clashes, poor processes, or poor performance.  While we tend to think of conflict as a negative thing, it can be healthy when managed and can lead to growth, innovation, and new ways of thinking.

Determine Root Cause. Step one in managing conflict is to determine its main cause.  You cannot effectively deal with conflict until you know why it’s occurring.  I realize that statement sounds obvious, who wouldn’t know that right?  Well, as humans we are fast to blame the people involved for the conflict, when many times the situation we’ve placed them in would cause conflict for any two people.  If the situation is at fault, enlist the two people to help redefine the process, or adjust roles, or reallocate resources, or improve the technology, or whatever steps are necessary to move us forward.  Conflict caused by situations can be easier to fix, however you need to fix it.  Ignoring conflict caused by the circumstances of work can grow to a real conflict between people that can be very destructive.

Opposites attract, then attack. For any manager, one of the most difficult situations to deal with is when two very skilled employees just don’t mesh.  They are constantly at each other throats, or perhaps even worse they engage in passive aggressive behavior.  They are constantly talking to other staff members about the other person.  Before you know the entire office is embroiled in this clash, people are taking sides, other arguments start…work productivity suffers.  I’ve seen these situations get so bad that some employees leave because the workplace has become so toxic.  If you don’t think you have any personality conflicts on your team then you are simply not paying attention.  It’s inevitable when you combine so many different people together that you will have conflicts.  Here are some ideas to help you resolve the out-of-control conflict like I described above.

Recognize the conflict. Don’t ignore it and hope it will go away.  First, talk to both employees individually.  There are two sides to every story so get to understand both viewpoints.  Your job is to just ask questions and listen.  Don’t judge or argue.  You may get lucky and find that a misunderstanding is causing the conflict.  Or you may find that in fact one of the individuals is just plain wrong and if so you can address that situation.  More than likely, however, they are both right and both wrong and resolving this conflict will require give and take from both of them.

Set Expectations. Make it clear to both individuals that the conflict and resulting behaviors must stop immediately.  Ask for each person’s agreement to work to resolve the conflict. But one if one of them thinks they are so “right” they refuse to change?  In that case, you’ll need to face the reality that they may just need to go work somewhere else.  You can’t progress through the conflict if both individuals aren’t committed to resolving it.

Meeting of the minds. After talking to both employees individually and getting their agreement to resolve the conflict, it’s time to get them together with you as the facilitator.  Ultimately, you can’t force two people to get along, it’s up to them to either choose to work together or not.  Share your observations.  Tell them clearly what is expected of them in terms of how they need to behave towards one another.  If you have a conduct policy, remind them of that.  You have to be crystal clear on the behavior(s) you will not tolerate going forward, how they are affecting their own performance and that of the team.   You always want to avoid attacking personalities.  Focus on the behaviors.  Sometimes the realization that their livelihood is at stake will shock people back to reality.  Most importantly, make the two employees accountable for sorting out their differences. Get their suggestions on what they can do to resolve the conflict and improve working relationships.   Help them uncover ways to work together differently. Help them see unproductive and unhealthy behaviors.  If this meeting is going nowhere, you may want to enlists the help of another party like your Human Resources Professional or perhaps even an EAP if you have either.  Or you may be able to transfer one of the employees to another department if you’re larger, though that tactic is usually only a short term fix.  Ultimately, if the conflict can’t be resolved you may end up losing both employees, and you know that’s OK.  If they can’t resolve, the emotional toll this conflict is having on them, their families, and the rest of your team isn’t worth it.  Everyone will thank you for it.

One last word. Many times conflict in your workplace is caused by you not doing your job.  Avoiding problems, tolerating poor performers, not providing enough tools and resources for your people, creating confusing processes, not communicating and the like all lead to negative outcomes.  The best single thing you can do to have a healthy environment with lower amounts of negative conflict is to talk to your employees on a regular basis. Get to know them.  Show them you care.  Believe me it will make your life and theirs’ a lot better, and when problems do come up, they can be resolved faster and more effectively since you’ve already opened up the communication channels.  Don’t be one of those managers that’s too busy to manage.  Think about it!

If you need help working through a conflict, call our Advice & Resolution team.  They can facilitate a solution to your conflict issue.  Also, sometimes an outside perspective can help break a log jam.


Doug Blizzard brings a wealth of knowledge to CAI, serving as Vice President of Membership. During his first 15 years at CAI he led the firm’s consulting and training divisions and counseled hundreds of clients on HR and Employee Relations issues. If he isn’t speaking at North Carolina conferences, teaching classes on Human Resources or consulting clients on EEO and Affirmative Action, Doug is leading the company’s membership services.

Where to Draw the Line When Sharing Your Opinion at Work

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016
Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer column, The View from HR.

Any topic that preys on emotions, faith or morality is a fire-starter around the water cooler. “The Patriots are cheaters!” “The Tar Heels finally got caught.” “What is up with that Supreme Court decision?” “Trump is right!”

Polarization from our politics or religions is one thing. Workplace conflict caused by hardheaded emotional opinions is quite another.

There is nothing wrong with an opinion shared among respectful co-workers. Opinions are part of life and work. Progress and clarity come from opinions shared openly and appropriately. Problems are solved when opinions are aired in the right way.

No workplace can or should be free of opinions. That includes properly expressed political, religious and sports team views. Policies or handbooks prohibiting such are largely futile or counter-productive.

Unproductive opinions

Most unproductive opinions are the “my way or the highway” kind. Conflict flows from the dogmatic or preachy style of the speaker. Well beyond a normal opinion is the overly confident pronouncement. It shuts off debate and sends opposition underground. Business issues that could be solved and opinions that could be harmonized have no chance.

Worse yet, when the pronouncement involves an emotional, faith-based or moral topic, the seeds of workplace conflict are sowed. Unfortunately, the seeds may take a long time to germinate, showing up only after several more conflicts, a termination or a perceived mistreatment.

The aggressively outspoken evangelist who promotes an employee from her church but rejects an employee of another faith creates Exhibit A for the disappointed employee’s lawsuit. The decision may be unrelated to faith, but these suits are about the intent of the actor. Intent is usually proven through statements and behaviors. Emotional declarations make good evidence.

Offensive opinions

The other significant source of opinion conflict is an off-base or offensive statement. Sometimes, it is so offensive it requires an employer response. Maybe it was an honestly held belief. Maybe the speaker was never coercive or directive. Maybe the comment or action can be read two ways. The confederate flag stuck on workbenches in the shop might be an example.

Out-of-bounds opinions that offend reasonable people can become the employer’s problem. Even if no one in management made or endorsed the opinion, the failure to take action or clearly reject the opinion can become an issue. Situations vary, but it would be a bad idea to ignore truly offensive and repeated statements by employees just because they were not made by management.

Employers may not like the role of hall monitor, but when the hallway banter shoves people into unwanted emotional lockers, it is time for the principal to come out of her office. Failure to act can be raised in a future claim to show tolerance and acceptance of similar behavior.

We are rounding the corner on another long season of politics, pomposity and pronouncements by candidates and their supporters. Opinions that allow for respectful disagreement should be expected in any workplace. Opinions that carry a verbal stick or seriously offend reasonable people are harmful and may require action.

9 Ways to Turn Workplace Conflict into Opportunities

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

The following is a guest post from Carol Hacker. Carol is the President and CEO of Hacker & Associates. She specializes in helping HR professionals and teaching managers, supervisors, team leaders, executives and business owners how to meet the leadership challenge. She’s the author the bestseller, Hiring Top Performers-350 Great Interview Questions for People Who Need People.

Carol Hacker portraitThe common denominator in workplace conflict is often a breakdown in communication.   Although conflict is normal and a part of everyday life, when it gets hurtful, it’s not only a problem, but it can be dangerous.   Conflict offers an opportunity for change and improved communication if employees are open to looking at conflict from a new perspective.  The sources of conflict can be almost anything; the resolve to turn conflict into opportunities is a choice.

Here are nine ways to turn conflict into opportunities:

Opportunity #1–Conflict can lead to opportunities when it involves a team of people.  Teams often try to resolve a problem as a group.  When they make a decision, it is often based on additional information that probably wouldn’t have been obtained had the conflict occurred and impacted more than just a handful of people.


Opportunity #2–Conflict can positively impact communication. Conflict and the escalators that sometimes make matters worse can actually improve communication.  If employees are confused, or don’t understand your expectations it can lead to conflict.  Your job is to solicit feedback. Engage them in discussion and get their buy-in.  The more input you get from your staff, the easier it will be to resolve conflict and grow as a team.


Opportunity #3–Conflict can alert you to morale problems.  If you suspect that morale is low, it’s a tip-off that conflict may be behind the problem.  Most employees hate conflict and their morale and eagerness to engage will be stifled if you allow it to continue.  As a leader in your organization you have an obligation to step up to the plate and work toward making changes for the better.


Opportunity # 4–Conflict can be energizing when it forces people out of their comfort zones.  Conflict evolves and is fueled by opposing interests.  It intensifies when values are different and trust erodes.  When conflict is commonplace, some employees tend to get comfortable and sometimes lazy when it comes to job responsibilities and meeting expectations.  Your role is to use conflict as a springboard for dialogue and rallying your employees to talk about what’s on their minds, but still recognize that many people don’t like to leave their comfort zone.  Don’t get stuck on start when it comes to a goal of energizing your employees via conflict.


Opportunity #5–Conflict can help improve productivity.  Conflict is definitely a problem when productivity is impacted because one or more of your employees is not getting along or is verbally fighting with someone else every time you turn your back.  Don’t avoid it or pretend it’s not happening.  Work to turn conflict into improved productivity.  But how?  State your position:  “I feel… I think… or we have a problem that’s impacting our productivity.”  Be ready to share specific examples—actions that you’ve observed.  Generalizations will get you nowhere.  Your goal is a “win-win” or “no-lose” outcome or solution to whatever is causing the conflict.


Opportunity #6–Conflict can provide opportunities for negotiations.  Negotiations often start with conflict—conflict with or among employees; conflict with vendors or suppliers; conflict with customers—not something we want to happen, but the reality is that it does from time to time.  You can improve your opportunities for successful negotiations by   gathering information to learn as much as you can about the situation,  checking to be sure what you’ve said has been understood, and looking at both sides of the story.


 Opportunity #7–Conflict provides an opportunity for growth.  On-going conflict can stymie your operation and cause people to shut down.  The more you know about how you and your employees prefer to deal with conflict, the easier it will be for you to resolve it.  As the HR professional, there are times when you will find yourself in the middle of arguments or angry employees who won’t listen.  The more you know about the importance of how conflict hurts growth, the easier it will be to train managers and supervisors how to handle workplace conflict, as well as the costs associated with doing nothing about it.


Conflict #8–Conflict can improve your meetings.  If the manager as well as the team members are open to listening and working on solutions in a group setting or staff meeting, everyone may get a different and valuable perspective regarding where there’s a problem and how the problem can be resolved.  In addition, make sure there are ground rules for how conflict in meetings will be handled when they arise.  Use team-building exercises, such as brainstorming or mind-mapping to get to the root of problems.


Conflict #9–Conflict can be a very good thing.  The way that you handle conflict can make the difference between a good and a no-so-good outcome.  If you choose to adopt behavioral changes in the way that you react to conflict, you can lead others toward building a closer, stronger bond.  Remember that you have a choice in everything you do and say, all of which is a direct reflection on you as a leader.


In summary, we all have to deal with conflict at work and in our personal lives.  Yet, inherent in conflict are opportunities.  The two keys to getting the positives out of conflict are to: 1) Recognize conflict as a springboard to improvement and 2) Learn and then practice the skills for managing conflict.  Whether in one-on-one interactions, in meetings, or during negotiations, conflict is manageable although at times uncomfortable.  Don’t allow it the bad press that it always seems to get.  Look for the hidden opportunities and then make it happen!

Carol can be reached at: or 770-410-0517