These workplace conflict resolution techniques can help you channel productive conflict to drive innovation.
As practically anyone with experience in the workplace knows, interpersonal workplace conflict between employees is all but inevitable. Workplace conflict can either become destructive and tear down or become productive and build up.
In fact, innovation is impossible without a little bit of productive workplace conflict. That’s why it’s highly useful to cultivate a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable speaking out and voicing new ideas that are disruptive and challenge the status quo. Workplace conflict becomes toxic when there is a lack of trust and collaboration. You as a leader need to be able to spot the difference so you can lead your team towards optimum results.
1. Identify the Problem
It’s simple: you can’t begin the process of resolving a workplace conflict until you’ve identified just what the problem is. Remaining alert to interpersonal issues at the office will help you identify conflict when it is first developing, allowing you to deal with it proactively. All styles of managers, from the more intense and authority-driven ones to those who prefer a more laid-back, casual style, can take an active role in resolving conflicts. Just find an approach that feels right to you and then decide how you would like to deal with the conflict — resolve it, or discuss and grow from it.
2. Understand the Impact
Once you’ve noticed that a conflict is brewing, take stock of how it’s affecting workplace culture and your company’s Key Results. Understand whether the conflict is productive and can be used to grow the business, teams, and individuals, or if it is tearing them down.
3. Identify the Players Involved
Workplace conflict can manifest at various levels. Generally, the more people involved in the conflict, the trickier it is to uncover what’s at stake or to find common ground. But due diligence is critical so that you can understand a full range of perspectives and get everyone’s input and ideas.
4. Understand Everyone’s Perspective
Once you’ve done the “pre-work” in the previous steps, you’re ready to engage. Make an effort to directly engage everyone enmeshed in the conflict and understand their feelings, as there might be hidden factors influencing the conflict that you couldn’t have identified at first glance. This discussion will be instrumental to understanding exactly what needs to happen to resolve the conflict, learn, and become better. This step is key in driving innovation and growth.
5. Ask for Feedback
After you’ve taken the initiative to understand everyone’s perspective, it’s time to ask all interested parties for feedback on how you can best support them, ensuring their concerns are resolved and an appropriate solution or next steps have been identified. Simply declaring that one party is right and the other is wrong isn’t leadership — in fact, this approach only discourages open and honest dialogue. Try to articulate not how a certain person or team is failing, but how those involved in the conflict can be better supported.
6. Create Accountability
Of course, it’s not enough to just declare that a workplace conflict exists and that something needs to be done. Not articulating specific expectations and behaviors leaves the root of the conflict intact, ready to spring up again at any time. For true, long-lasting conflict resolution, be as specific as possible when devising tangible steps. Explain who is accountable for what, what you need from all involved parties, and what specific steps you’ll take to support the plan. It is not enough just to innovate—there has to be execution.
7. Move Forward, Evaluate, and Adjust Workplace Conflict as Needed
While steps 1-6 are usually only performed once, this last step can be repeated until the desired results are achieved. Think of it like a science experiment: if you try the experiment and don’t achieve the desired result, you adjust the experiment as needed. As the great Thomas Edison shared, “I didn’t fail. I just found 2,000 ways to not make a lightbulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work.”
As you cultivate a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable speaking out and voicing new, disruptive ideas, challenging the status quo and creating productive conflict, you will see an increase in innovation and a positive impact on your bottom line results.