Tuesday, 03 April 2012 13:27

Human Resources - Managing conflict in the workplace

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Part of the role of 98% of HR managers includes handling conflict at work, with businesses with high levels of conflict experiencing greater turnover, increased sick leave and absenteeism, unproductive use of time and increased legal costs.

These are the findings of a recent survey by Employee Development Systems (EDS), which also found that 81% of HR professionals have experienced an employee resigning as a result of conflict, and 77% have seen it result in increased absenteeism.

The survey found that some common causes of workplace conflict included:

  • Warring egos and personality clashes (86%)
  • Poor leadership (73%)
  • Lack of honesty (67%)
  • Stress (64%)
  • Clashing values (59%)

However, the survey also found that when conflict is handled effectively, it can become a catalyst for positive change. In organisations where HR has effectively resolved conflict, 57% have seen better ongoing problem solving, 31% increased motivation, 77% more tolerance of others, and 40% an increase in overall team performance.

Stopping conflict as it arises

Conflict resolution and communication specialist Edie Heste advises that HR should take the following steps when conflict arises:

1. Impose a deadline to resolve the conflict. Make sure that staff understand that too much time spent arguing just means that everyone loses.

2. Find a common point everyone can agree on. When conflict arises, people are too busy looking at their differences to see common ground. If this is identified, people are more likely to start working together towards a solution.

3. Encourage people to focus on what they are prepared to accept. Take the focus away from what the other person did ‘wrong’ and onto stating their needs.

4. Ask staff to specify their preferences, rather than making demands. Ask people to prioritise preferences if there is more than one thing they want from the situation.

5. Reverse roles. Ask each person to consider the other person’s point of view. If each party understands the other's viewpoint, they will be more willing to reach a compromise.

6. Ask people to remain objective and professional when dealing with professional disputes.

7. Reinforce employees' self-esteem. Don't let those who didn't get what they wanted feel like the loser or that they were wrong.

8. If all else fails, use a third party to settle disputes. An objective mediator can assist with a solution that suits both parties.