Steps to End The Conflict Cycle

Julie Shenkman
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Much like toxic waste, deep-seated work conflicts can spread decay throughout your business environment and slowly break down productive employee relationships. Ignoring the tension only gives it more time to grow, making your co-workers more likely to have a negative mindset when they communicate. If you want to stop a never-ending work conflict, look for the underlying problems that hinder employees from being considerate of each other's perspectives.

1. Wait for a Calm Moment

The fastest way to escalate a work conflict is to provoke co-workers who are already in a heightened state of anger. Whether the issue is personal or work-related, wait until emotions have cooled down, and handle the disagreement in a neutral zone. With the exception of HR mediators, people who weren't involved shouldn't be present. You don't want to give careless bystanders fuel for gossip.

2. Acknowledge Different Viewpoints

When a bad encounter isn't addressed early, both colleagues are prone to developing negative biases, which they project onto future interactions. The work conflict cycle intensifies because employees objectify one another, refusing to see the frustrations or good intentions driving the other person's actions. Through dialogue or role-playing, encourage each teammate to listen to the other's feelings and version of events, so you can look for deep patterns of negative interaction. Resolve problems by pinpointing the earliest source of the conflict and working forward.

3. Use Impartial Language

Maintain a fair and professional discussion by directing all parties to use impartial statements about their personal feelings and avoid outright accusations against others. Instead of claiming, "Mark never pulls his weight," say, "I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to juggle." Ask employees to provide examples to support their feelings while keeping an unbiased tone. For example, "I had to complete X, Y and Z projects in limited time, even though I was only assigned X." Neutral evidence can help others see where their behavior contributed to a problem without creating a blame game.

4. Focus on the Mission

Teammates have common goals, so keep them focused on finding a solution that helps everyone reach the finish line on time. If the work conflict is between employees and management, set aside time for an open forum in which both parties can voice their grievances and explain their reasoning when making decisions. In many cases, employees at different company levels are completely unaware of everyday operational issues that hinder productivity or raise the need for restrictive policies. Transparency promotes understanding while helping you agree on changes that are mutually beneficial for the whole team.

5. Ask for Suggestions

Be prepared to interact with high-conflict employees who can't admit personal fault, control their emotions or empathize with others. These employees demand more attention and aren't likely to cooperate until you sympathize with their opinions. In such situations, ask how the employee would like to be treated and his ideal solutions to the problem. You can use the employee's own projected model of behavior to explain why his actions were disrespectful and create a balanced dialogue with the other party.

Work conflicts can be productive if they drive employees to immediately resolve problems, rather than letting them fester. Remember to give everyone involved an equal voice, so you can work toward a permanent solution.

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