Work Hard, Play Hard: Top tips on dealing with conflict in the workplace

Out of the four below personality types, which best describes you at work?:

1. Analytical: Thinker, perfectionist, good attention to detail
2. Amiable: Team player, diplomatic, loyal
3. Driver: Strong, independent, high achiever
4. Expressive: Good communicator, passionate, creative

For each positive trait these personality types have, there are also some negative points, which are the things we need to focus on when trying to resolve conflict in the workplace.
Workplace conflict is something that will affect everyone at some point in their working career. It might be directly, where we find ourselves clashing with a colleague, boss or employee or indirectly when we get caught in the conflict cross-fire of other work colleagues.

When we’re working at least seven hours a day, conflict at work can really put a downer on our outlook when we feel like we’re ‘going into battle’ everyday, which is why we’ve dedicated this post to advice on avoiding workplace conflict.

With some help from our expert panel, we’ve identified some common themes and key strategies for addressing conflict.

1. Conflict is good
Shane Warren from Waterworth (a human resource leadership and organisational development consulting firm) looks at conflict from a different angle and says, “I always encourage people to accept that conflict is in fact good, because this shows people can be bothered to have an emotional investment in the work experience (apathy is the true killer to team dynamics)”.

Clair Couttie from fibreHR agrees that being open and honest is best: “Welcome conflict. Deal with it quickly and openly, don’t push it underground by not addressing it. Facilitate difference of opinion in a structured and safe way.”

When involved in difficult conversations, always remember “It’s not ‘what you say’, but how you say it (as my mum says!),” says Felicity Murray from Strategic Administration Services Australia (SASA).

2. Pick your battles
My grandad once wisely said, “You can’t win ‘em all!” which rings true in the workplace. “Individuals must be smart and you need to choose your battles well – don’t waste time and energy fighting a fight you can never win. Be sure to access your power of influence and run with it – what you cannot influence you are better learning to accept!” says Shane.

To avoid taking criticism at work personally, Felicity offers these gems of advice:
1. Think like a business owner and rise above the emotion of it
2. Focus on the outcome, not the reaction
3. Remember to ‘lead by example’

3. Define expectations – within the company and your team
“Grey areas” can lead to a grey culture. Most people like to know where they stand and uncertainty can lead to frustration, negativity and a lack of productivity.

When managing expectations, Felicity says it is important to take a step back and “Firstly, be clear about what they are”.

Lack of role clarity and goal setting “is often the biggest reason for conflict at work,” says Clair. Problems can arise when “Roles have not been clearly defined by management with some roles overlapping in accountability and responsibility. Where there are no clear goals set it is often difficult to make effective decisions in the best interests of the business.”

The solution? This is where management comes in. Someone needs to take charge and ensure that every team member is on the same page. This is where a clear and concise induction procedure comes in handy. Good habits are cemented when there is clarity around roles and goals for new team members. Clair believes that it’s important to “Define appropriate corporate values and behaviours. In this way when inappropriate conflict behaviours arise performance management can be undertaken quickly and in a structured way that is clear to all parties”.

4. Learn how to negotiate
“Learn how to say ‘no’” is a common bit of advice thrown to people who are overwhelmed by their workload. But sometimes saying ‘no’ isn’t that simple. If ‘no’ isn’t a word you’re comfortable with, put on your negotiating hat and learn how to offer alternative solutions.

Felicity suggests, “Don’t say no but rather offer solutions”. Asking simple questions such as “When do you need it by?” helps to establish the urgency of the task. Offer solutions such as, “I will be able to do it for you by end of next week (rather than ‘no’ because you’re too busy)” or “Perhaps Sally can help, would you like me to ask her?” are helpful options says Felicity. “Communicate if there are issues with your workload such as “I will be able to do this, however, that will need to be pushed back until next month.”

5. Have the right people in the right roles
If you think back to the jobs you have enjoyed previously, chances are they involved tasks that you enjoy and/or are good at. Melinda Walker from Elite Success Coaching believes this is paramount. “If people are doing what they enjoy doing and they drive satisfaction from it, then they will and do spend less time complaining about their workload and their workmates.”

Clair believes that part of the key to success is to “Embrace and understand diversity. Everyone has different backgrounds perspectives and values which can enrich a team. The key is to understand these in teams and appreciate everyone’s strengths and acknowledge development areas.”

What are some strategies that you can use to ensure that you have the right people in the right roles?

1. Identify the different personality types within your workplace. Clair suggests using organisational psych tools such as DiSC and MBTI to help “start the conversation and create shared understanding”. These are great tools that can be extremely beneficial in a variety of workplaces, but they must be used with care. Instruments such as MBTI and DiSC “need to be used responsibly to assist in understanding of differences rather than to divide or excuse inappropriate behavior,” advises Clair.

2. Start to match employee’s strengths with specific tasks, as Melinda explains below:
a) The devil is in the detail – “People who are good with detail should be creating things like computer programs, working with numbers, spread-sheets, office manuals that kind of thing.  Essentially anything that involves a lot of detail.”

b) People who need people – “People who are good with people and not so good with detail should always either be in sales or at front of house, greeting people to your business and making them feel welcome.”

c) Lone Wolf – “People who are good at working on their own and not taking direction should be in charge of a sales team, be in leadership or be involved in organizing training for the staff and ideally running it as well.”

d) Comfort Seekers – “People who are good at being comfortable and like stability and don’t have any real desire to move up the corporate ladder are the best people for maintaining your database and your clients.  They should be the ones doing the follow up and making sure your clients are happy.”

Melinda believes it’s important to recognise that “People are an emotional lot yet essentially we are all very similar and if you know what motivates someone and what makes them happy by understanding their personality types better then you will have a far more cohesive and productive workplace.”

A huge thank you to our contributors for their wise words:

Shane Warren, Waterworth – Waterworth is a human resource leadership and organisational development consulting firm working across the Asia Pacific

Clair Couttie, fibreHR – fibreHR is a generalist HR consultancy operating in the SME space with up to 70 different clients across a range of industries.

Melinda Walker, Elite Success Coaching – Melinda works with businesses to develop their people by creating high performing teams who are committed to the culture of an organization. Together we increase cohesion and productivity for individuals and within teams.

Felicity Murray, Strategic Administration Services Australia (SASA) – SASA is Australia’s leading Strategic Administration Services provider.
For over 21 years, founder and principal specialist Felicity Murray, has
supported business leaders and owners, developed administration processes
and programs, and recruited, managed, trained, coached and mentored
Administration staff across Australia.

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