Handling Conflicts in the Workplace

Potential conflicts are part of any social interaction or relationship, even in the workplace.

Resolving them may come in different forms: engaging in unilateral decision-making by forcing, negotiating and attempting to arrive at a mutually satisfying agreement, or seeking a quick middle-ground position, or yielding and giving in, or withdrawing from the situation altogether, or employing a combination of strategies.

How we choose to handle the conflict depends on many factors such as our attitude, beliefs and values, openness to communicate, expected behavior of our counterparts, time and resources, etc.

We asked Yumi Wada, a resource person on leadership and values formation, for her insights on the benefits of engaging in conflict resolutions.

Dialogue and improving group trust and respect. If we value the relationship or the organization now in conflict, it becomes an opportunity for us to momentarily pause from regular routine, to dialogue and to regroup.

Dialogues and sit-downs can help clear the air, clarify boundaries, promote mutual understanding and increase group trust and respect.

In positive psychology, this refers to applying Seligman’s PERMA—promotion of Positive emotions, Engagement of strengths, investments in Relationships, creation of Meaning and celebration of Accomplishments—to increase happiness and satisfaction within an organization.

These positive outcomes emerge when conflicts are relatively mild and managed in a safe, empathetic, constructive and professional manner. It becomes a call to compassionate growth.

Better self-awareness. We all have our comfort zones. When that comfort zone is challenged or threatened by others, it becomes almost like an impulse reaction to complain, to point blame or to assert power over others.

Research has shown that what irks us in others may be a projection of the very weaknesses we need to work on in ourselves.

Moments of conflict become an opportunity for humble and honest self-evaluation: How did my actions affect others?

Innovation. When the “old world” does not work anymore or has served its purpose, it becomes an opening for a “new world.”

Through introspection and respectful dialogue, the development of shared goals and social identity reduces competitiveness and can help an organization move forward. New and even better perspectives emerge. It becomes a call to creative redemption.

For example, in one large organization, morale is low over a festering culture of poor attendance, poor participation, professional jealousies and gossip.  However, through the manager’s introspection he realizes how he would want to go beyond what he sees on the surface.

He decides that through regular evaluation, consultation and dialogue, he would find the sources of this negativity—concluding that if negativity can be contagious, so can positivity.

He prioritizes “appreciations” as a standing agenda item at the beginning of his weekly staff meeting, e.g., he nominates a rookie for his stellar performance, makes a public acknowledgment of a custodian’s efforts or points out something for which he is grateful.

He sponsors a quarterly team appreciation lunch. He encourages socialization to get to know his team members better. He introduces them to the beneficiaries of their projects and celebrates the impact of all their hard work.

Soon, it makes his team work harder and they look forward to coming to work in an environment that highlights their strengths and efforts.