How to resolve conflict in the workplace

Have you ever experienced issues with management, a fellow workmate, a client or business partner? Or have you been a witness to a dispute, argument or what may have been a less obvious case of conflict in the workplace? When office gossip becomes more harmful than harmless, or there is an evident influence on employee morale, steps need to be taken to address this. One issue can trickle down to impact other team members, their work and their overall wellbeing, therefore it is important to be able to resolve conflict when it first arises. This Business Kitz article will act as your guide on how to form strong workplace relationships, how to address and resolve conflict, what systems to put in place and what options for mediation are available if the matter can be resolved. 

Conflict in the workplace impacts employee morale, not just those involved.

Causes of conflict in the workplace 

More than 65% of performance issues are the result of workplace relationships gone wrong. So when and why does conflict in the workplace occur? Conflict arises when there is a key difference between the opinions or interests of people in the organisation that can go on to cause tension across departments and discrepancies in work that may not be up to the same perceived ‘standard’ or expectations. Common causes of conflict are:

  • Lack of communication or misunderstanding;
  • Lack of skills;
  • Breach of agreement or contract;
  • Unclear job roles and competition between employees;
  • Limited organisational resources;
  • Differing personalities;
  • Unlawful harassment, bullying or discrimination;
  • Conflict of interest;
  • Mental illness; and
  • Ill intent.

Human-centric approach 

Resolving conflict in the workplace will often involve heightened emotions and personal beliefs and circumstances that need to be treated sensitively. Generally, when someone experiences conflict in the workplace, they will first discuss the matter with the staff member that they trust the most. Therefore, ensuring that your workplace has a culture of trust, open communication, mutual respect and support will ease the conflict resolution process and increase the likelihood of employee retention in the long run. It is important to reiterate the shared goals that the business is striving toward to create a sense of community and purpose. To deal with conflict, managers should acknowledge the emotions of both parties involved and be open to listen to both perspectives, reflect on their own role in the situation, discuss workplace entitlements and negotiate solutions or compromises that benefit the interest of both parties. 

Establish systems and policies as well as empathy to manage conflict in the workplace.

System-based approach 

Particularly for cases of workplace discrimination, harassment or bullying, ‘meeting in the middle’ is neither morally nor legally appropriate, and instead one should report the event, contact the Fair Work Commission and seek legal advice and abide by the protections in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cwlth), Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cwlth), Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cwlth) and Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cwlth). Another way to resolve conflict in the workplace is to review the laws regarding pay and record keeping, parental, sick and carers leave, holiday pay entitlements, termination of employment and resignation. Effective management practices, the establishment of conflict resolution policies or procedures and reviewing the terms set in your enterprise agreement will ensure that all grey areas are covered and that each case can be handled quickly, justly and legally. While mistakes or slip-ups with business partners can be discussed with management staff, it is best to have a method of reporting internal and unfair treatment within your business, before external mediation is sought out. Other ways of avoiding conflict in the workplace beyond what is set in writing can be to train employees on conflict management and attending dispute resolution workshops. While different approaches may be more suitable for different companies, generally the best approach is a collaborative, empathetic and systematic one, where human-centric and systematic elements are combined.

Mediation can be sought out if the conflict in the workplace cannot be resolved.

What to do when you cannot resolve a conflict?

If you have not reached a negotiated or mediated outcome, it is best to look at an adjudicated outcome. If you are dealing with a particularly difficult or intense conflict and require external assistance, in Queensland you can seek mediation through dispute resolution centres provided by the government where generally two mediators will act as advisors void of bias. You can also find support through the Fair Work Commission, as Australia’s workplace relations tribunal or you can seek legal advice through our sister company Legal Kitz.

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Legal advice

Conflict in the workplace should be treated as priority as it can have a significant impact on employee morale, productivity, turnover rates, business reputation and overall job satisfaction. If you need to draft or review your company agreements, contracts or conflict policies, Business Kitz has a range of customisable documents to make your life easier. If you are dealing with a dispute that seems overwhelming or beyond your training, we recommend seeking legal advice with our sister company Legal Kitz. You can book a free 30-minute consultation with their experienced and highly qualified team via our website now.

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