How to Combat Conflict at Work

The workplace is like a second home. You spend most of your waking hours with your co-workers — a family unit devoting time and energy toward a collective vision for the future. But just as you might squabble with family members over finances or chores, your work family can easily run into unexpected conflict.

Negativity and miscommunication are common problems that can hurt morale and productivity in the workplace. Miscommunication, in particular, can cost your company big. An estimated $37 billion is lost to misunderstandings in the office, according to the Holmes Report in its recent yearlong survey of 400 corporations.

When your team has a negative outlook on the task at hand, it can leave your employees stressed and deadlines unmet, damaging productivity and engagement in ways that are hard to reverse. It’s important for leaders to handle these conflicts when they arise in order to keep small family squabbles from turning into all-out fights.

Stopping Conflict in Its Tracks

As a manager and businesswoman, I try to practice preventive conflict management. Use these strategies to make sure your team members are on the same page each day:

  • Designate roles and responsibilities. I never want employees to be in a gray area, especially when it comes to job descriptions. Conflict arises when people don’t have a clear mission. Document expectations, unsolicited praise, and constructive feedback for your team and each of its members. It’s important to set the objectives and review them together so everyone is informed and in agreement.
  • Communicate openly and often. It’s impossible to properly handle conflict without a full understanding of the problem, so I strive for transparency with my employees from all angles. I encourage them to ask questions and talk about conversations they hear from their peers. This allows me to clear up any conflict brewing under the surface before it evolves into a larger issue. It also helps bring my team together to understand our goals.

How to Right the Ship

Whether your work family is doing just fine or is about to come to blows, it’s important to be proactive with conflict management. The most difficult scenarios were once small problems that could have been solved with proper care and communication. Here are a few steps you can take to help your team move forward when conflict creeps in:

1. Communicate. If a specific issue needs to be resolved, a one-on-one conversation can get to the root of the problem and encourage trust among team members. If a conference room feels too formal, don’t be afraid to take it outside. Off-site meetings in a casual setting can foster openness as you talk through specific issues.

If there isn’t a pressing issue that needs to be resolved, it’s still important to hold scheduled meetings. Regular communication that follows a schedule helps everyone relax and focus on higher-priority work.

2. Trust your team. Rigid atmospheres can lead to negativity and conflict. Trust your team members, and allow flexibility — doing so often leads to increased productivity. Flexibility with your trusted employees also helps eliminate stress in their work lives — and their personal lives, too.

3. Show your cards. Being open and honest with your work family promotes trust, a crucial component in every office. Transparency fosters comfort on a team and leads to effective communication that can make your company more lucrative, efficient, and fulfilling.

4. Share ownership. Allow your employees to take ownership of their work as an extension of trust and transparency within the team. By handing the reins to your work family, you are trusting them to make mistakes, be accountable, and learn for the future. A manager should guide her team in the right direction — but not by hovering. This will help team members feel empowered to grow and work in a positive, conflict-free environment.

As you work to manage conflict within your team, remember that your workplace is your second home. No matter what issues arise, the tools for successfully resolving conflicts are the same at home or in the office: communication, transparency, and trust.


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