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4 steps to managing workplace conflict

4 steps to managing workplace conflict

by Susan Wilhelm

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No-one likes to have a difficult conversation but leaving tension unresolved in the workplace can have a significant effect not only on your short-medium term happiness, but potentially your long-term health. We’ve invited Susan Wilhelm from Mediation Space to share some practical steps to help you manage conflict in the workplace should the need arise.

Throughout your accounting career chances are you have already, or someday will, come across conflicts in the workplace. Many issues and scenarios can lead to disagreements between team members and those disagreements need to be effectively managed.

But what if a conflict hasn’t been managed and remains unresolved? Things may have escalated to the extent that you dread going in to the office because it is having a negative impact on you. If the conflict has been allowed to fester for a while and has started to make people uncomfortable, it is time to look after yourself and try to manage the situation. This applies if you are a party to the conflict but also when a conflict occurs in your immediate work environment that is affecting you.

Here are 4 steps you can take to resolve the situation:

STEP 1: Understand how the situation is affecting you

It is important to understand how the conflict affects you because it will help you to actively work towards a solution. Have you started avoiding people in the office? Do you feel a physical impact such as tension and headaches? Do you lose sleep because of the situation? Discuss your thoughts honestly with someone you trust and if you have answered yes to any of the questions above it is time to look after your own wellbeing and work towards a solution.

STEP 2: Evaluate what you have tried so far

Look at what you have done so far to remedy the situation. Have you tried talking to your colleague? Were they open to the conversation? Do you prefer not to engage with the other party? Does your manager or HR department know what is going on? If the conflict is in the workplace and has been going on for a while other people might be affected too.

STEP 3: Try to separate the issue from the emotion it is causing 

Any conflict causes stress and can have a huge impact on the productivity and well-being of you and other employees, this can then flow on to your customers. Try to put the emotions aside for a minute as anger and frustration limit our ability to think rationally. Can you describe the impact on you objectively?

STEP 4: Seek support

Your employer is responsible for providing a safe work place, so if possible seek support from your manager and explain to them what has caused the conflict and how it has had an impact on you. Ask for their support in resolving the situation. If you can share how this has impacted you and be clear that you are hoping to resolve the situation, your manager should now be in a position to work with the respective parties to restore a constructive work environment.

If you are a manager that has to deal with conflict in your team and you are finding it difficult to resolve on your own, seek coaching from your own manager or suggest the engagement of a qualified mediator who will help the team back to productivity and staff engagement.

Written by: Susan Wilhelm, Mediation Space

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Find out about other ways to increase productivity at your workplace: Culture Over Compliance: Getting More Done At Work.