How to Effectively Deal with Workplace Confrontation

If a business’s payroll consists of more than one employee, workplace confrontation is bound to rear its ugly head from time to time. When conflict arises, emotions run rampant. Reactions vary and may include the subtle eye roll, a loud shouting match, or a flagrant fist slammed on a shiny, polished desk.

If work-related confrontation isn’t addressed in a timely manner, devastating results might ensue such as:

  • Diminished Productivity
  • Bullying
  • Absenteeism
  • Turnover
  • Litigation

A CPP Global Human Capital Report suggests every employee spends a valuable 2.1 hours each week, or approximately one day every month, handling some type of workplace conflict. A study conducted by Oluremi B. Ayoko and published in The International Journal of Organizational Analysis shows prolonged instances of confrontation in the workplace increases occurrences of bullying.

How to Effectively Deal with Workplace Confrontation

Extreme cases of bullying may even lead to counterproductive outbursts including intentionally confiscating business materials and supplies, purposefully damaging an expensive company asset, or deliberately completing one’s tasks incorrectly. In a Psychometrics Conflict Study, 77% of human resources professionals admit they’ve witnessed office conflict resulting in a sickness or absence, while 43% of these individuals reveal they’ve seen someone get terminated.

Most Common Types of Conflict at Work

Before you can nip workplace conflict in the bud, you need to understand where it’s coming from. The following examples represent the most common types of confrontation in the workplace.

Interdependency-related Conflict

On many occasions, workers must rely on others’ input, output, or co-operation in order to accomplish their tasks. Unfortunately, this necessity can lead to conflict. For instance, an accountant can’t complete monthly financial reports until information about advertising costs is received from the marketing department.

Leadership Confrontation

When companies are comprised of numerous managers and supervisors, multiple leadership styles emerge. For instance, a managing partner might prefer a directive leadership style while a mid-level manager may favor a participative one. When differing leadership approaches are in play, employees can become confused.

How to Effectively Deal with Workplace Confrontation

Differences in Work Styles

Employees possess differing ways of getting the job done. While some workers enjoy completing tasks independently, other employees thrive when working in teams.

Personality Clashes

In business, people who would otherwise never meet, much less socialize, are thrust together and must get along in order to succeed. Personality clashes are sometimes inevitable. For instance, employee A might be a shy introvert while worker B may be a boisterous extrovert. When these two individuals are placed on a team with an intensive deadline, fireworks might ensue.

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Value Conflict

Deep-seated differences in values and identities can cause confrontation on the job. These differences can encompass politics, ethics, religion, social norms, or other closely guarded beliefs. Variations about values might lead to confrontation when the company must decide whether to implement an affirmative action program or whether to conduct business with a new client with associations with a corrupt government.

Communication Breakdowns

Many workplace conflicts arise from receiving misinformation, no information, or a lack of information. Even not knowing what to do with good information you’ve got your hands on is a communication breakdown.

How to Effectively Deal with Workplace Confrontation6 Tips for Solving Workplace Confrontation

Now that you have a better grasp of the types of workplace conflict, here are some simple, effective solutions for solving them:

1. Define Acceptable Behavior

On the job, assumptions can lead to atrocities. To avoid workplace conflict, businesses should create a definition of what represents acceptable behavior. Write clear job descriptions so workers understand what is required of them. Develop a well-defined chain of command to foster effective communication. Publically make known what types of actions and language will and won’t be allowed.

For instance, according to Entrepreneur, during a workplace confrontation, you should strive not to say:

  • Never
  • Always
  • Constantly
  • All the time
  • You

2. Foster a Team Culture

Working together as a cohesive team can do wonders for workplace productivity. Sadly, on the job, employees often solely concentrate on differences. To reduce instances of conflict, leaders should underscore the notion that every individual on a team is present for a common goal. They must also drive home the point that a business is stronger when an entire team works together, searches for similarities, and downplays differences.

3. Don’t Ignore the Problem

While ignoring workplace conflict might seem like the least stressful solution, this practice won’t make it go away. Instead, it’s likely to escalate the problem. Hitting confrontation head-on can prevent matters from getting out of hand and significantly damaging the company in the long-run.

4. Determine Others’ Motivations

Before weighing in on a confrontational situation, determine others’ motivations. You need to know what they think is at stake for them. Avoiding conflict boils down to helping others around you accomplish their objectives. Mike Myatt, chairman of N2Growth and author of “Hacking Leadership” and “Leadership Matters” says, “If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.”

5. Establish a Fair Grievance Process

Businesses should develop, and commit to writing, policies regarding any conflict mechanisms available in the organization. Creating a fair grievance process will provide precise guidance for both workers and employers. A policy should highlight the breadth, strengths, and weaknesses of all mechanisms. It should also clearly define each mechanism’s terms including eligibility, frequency, required signatures and approvals for settling a dispute, and the scope of the decision process.

Companies often utilize multiple ways for workers to solve organizational and interpersonal disagreements. Some common steps include:

  • An open-door policy
  • Management review
  • Peer review
  • Facilitation
  • Mediation
  • Arbitration

6. Offer Conflict Resolution Training

Because workplace confrontation is so prevalent, conflict resolution training can be extremely valuable. According to the aforementioned CPP Global Human Capital Report, only 44% of employees questioned say they’ve received some kind of training in dealing with workplace conflict. However, an impressive 95% of those who received training boast it helped them in some way. Conflict resolution training can be delivered as part of leadership development, informal peer-to-peer coaching, or a formal external class in confrontation management.

How to Effectively Deal with Workplace ConfrontationA Healthier Way to Handle Workplace Confrontation

Despite a company’s best laid plans, workplace conflict will arise at least occasionally. Thankfully, it doesn’t always lead to devastating consequences. In fact, confrontation at work can sometimes result in surprising benefits.

Workplace confrontation can bring to light more important problems that should be addressed. For example, confrontation can reveal policies and practices that need to be abolished or replaced. If employees can learn to solve conflicts in a constructive manner, disagreements can become normalized. When this occurs, they’re often viewed as an essential component of joint problem-solving.

When confrontation is avoided, denied, or dealt with ineffectively, relationships suffer. But, when workers feel their concerns are listened to and respected, the opposite can occur. With that in mind, you should have all the incentives and tools you need to begin effectively tackling conflict at your workplace today.

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.