Closing the Loop on Workplace Conflict

Closing the Loop on Workplace Conflict

Conflict is a part of human nature. It’s a by-product of life, opinions, personal truths, and perceptions, both at home and in the workplace. And in all honesty, life would likely be pretty boring without a *little* conflict. 

Because individuals have different experiences and values, conflict is common in the workplace. And you don’t want a workplace free from conflict as that would signify a suppression of people’s opinions, truths, concerns, and participation.

There are two different types of conflict within the workplace. There is productive conflict and destructive conflict. Can you guess which one you want to focus on?

Productive (Healthy) Conflict: Conflict that supports growth and individuality while working towards a group goal.

Healthy conflict looks like team members who have different views or opinions that are directed at a specific subject or topic rather than at a person or team.

Productive conflict typically arises in environments where people feel trusted to speak up and share without fear of judgment or repercussions. They take a more objective approach to the subject matter and don’t typically attach personal feelings to the outcome.

Destructive (Unhealthy) Conflict: Conflict that breeds resentment and distrust within a team/relationship.

An example of destructive conflict may look like a manager rushing through a scheduled one-on-one, showing impatience, and not providing any feedback requested by the team member. The conflict in this scenario resides with the employee, who is now distrustful of the manager and feels undervalued.

If not addressed in a timely manner, it will eventually erode trust and create a negative undercurrent within the team. This is when you’ll start to see some of those unproductive behaviors, lack of engagement, and possibly even turnover.

Conflict Clogs The Arteries

One way I like to think about destructive conflict is to think about circulation in the body. Each unaddressed conflict causes a build-up in your arteries, similar to cholesterol, fat, and plaque build-up over time, eventually causing constriction of blood flow, and in the worst cases, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

While conflicts may not seem large in the moment and not perceived as needing a resolution, I have never once seen a conflict resolve itself on its own without some sort of intervention. And without resolution, these small, micro-conflicts will only continue to build up.

Who’s Responsible For Closing The Loop?

Simply put, it’s up to YOU – the person who has the conflict, and it’s for YOUR benefit. 

Conflict can be one-sided or two-sided. One-way may look like the example of the manager above, who may not experience any conflict in that situation, but you do. Resolving this conflict won’t benefit them, but it will benefit you to move forward without carrying any baggage and clogging more arteries.

Conflict may also look like two team members who don’t work well together and constantly gossip about each other. Creating an urgent resolution could be up to one person or even a manager who is witnessing.

How Do You Address Unhealthy Conflict in the Workplace?

1. Address it quickly.

You don’t want to leave conflict lingering too long as the individual could forget the situation, or it may not come across as important because you waited too long. On the other hand, if it’s a conflict where you have high emotions, you also want to give yourself some time to pause, reflect and gather your thoughts. 

Conflict should be addressed within a week (or earlier) of the occurrence. 

2. Address it one-on-one.

No one wants to be put on display, especially without warning. When addressing conflict, it should always be done privately between you and the individual that has caused or sourced the conflict. 

3. Put your thoughts on paper. 

Set yourself up for a successful resolution by writing out the thing(s) that are bothering you and the outcome you would like to see. 

People don’t always know what effects their behaviors have on others. This allows you to be thorough in your discussions and gives the individual ways to support, so this conflict doesn’t arise again.

4. How you open the conversation is most important. 

How you address the individual initially in your one-on-one will determine the outcome and success of a resolution. 

Instead of making sweeping statements that will put the other on the defensive, take an investigator’s approach by asking questions about their intentions surrounding the event(s) and learn more while sharing how it makes you feel.

Unhealthy: Why did you make that comment in the meeting? It pissed me off, and I can’t believe you would say that.

Healthy: I was just curious about your comment the other day in the meeting. I wasn’t quite sure how to take it and would like to know your intention so I can better understand.

How Do You Avoid Conflict?

Again, not all conflict is bad, and not all conflict can be avoided. It’s a natural part of life and the workplace. 

First, assess your ability to recognize and handle conflict to reduce destructive conflict. Identify your responses when faced with conflict. Are you quick to jump into it, do you let it build up inside of you, or are you passive-aggressive?

Then you can focus on small habit changes to reduce and resolve them. For some, it may mean asking for time to pause and process. For others, it may mean being more direct with your team and asking for what you want. Determining these changes is critical for moving forward.

“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” – Ronald Reagan.

Do you feel like more and more workplace conflicts are causing a buildup in your system? If so, connect with me today for a free 15-minute assessment to find the source and begin a healthier path forward.

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