5 Tips for Managing Conflict in the Workplace

5 Tips for Managing Conflict in the Workplace

We’re all human, so it’s inevitable that we’ll occasionally experience conflict in the workplace. But as a leader of a finance and accounting team, you no doubt would prefer to oversee an environment where coworkers don’t clash, friction doesn’t escalate into head-butting, and everyone works to their full abilities.

Like many finance leaders, you probably spend a significant portion of your time trying to help resolve staff conflicts. In a recent Robert Half survey, CFOs said they spend six hours a week, on average, managing conflicting parties on their team. Some of the executives (17 percent) said they spend a quarter to more than half of their valuable time dealing with conflict in the workplace.

Sound familiar? Just think what you could do with that six hours a week if you didn’t have to manage all those disagreements that erode into discord. Here are five ways to encourage your workers to get along with others in the office (and help you save time):

1. Promote the flow of communication

Putting your head in the sand really doesn't help when there’s conflict in the workplace. Problems rarely resolve themselves on their own and can even become worse if you aren’t quick to address them. So, be proactive.

Encourage those on your team who are having difficulty with a coworker to get their disagreements out in the open while they’re still small. Here are some hints you can offer them:

  • Ask your coworker with whom you’re not seeing eye to eye to name a time when it would be convenient for the two of you to meet, in a place where you won't be interrupted.
  • After laying out your point of view on the issue, listen carefully to what the other person has to say, show empathy, avoid interrupting and ask questions to clarify what was said.  
  • Identify points of agreement and disagreement, and ask if your coworker agrees with your assessment.
  • Express your desire to work out a solution and discuss ways to resolve your conflict.

2. Set a good example

Managers, of course, need to lead the way with communication. Here are some ways executives can prevent conflicts while also building rapport with their teams and colleagues:  

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Take an interest without participating in office politics.
  • Nip rumors and gossip in the bud by offering accurate and up-to-date clarifications.
  • Project an image of professionalism and good etiquette.
  • Respect unique points of view, and don’t criticize others publicly.
  • Check in regularly, and show how you value other people’s input.
  • Be honest, reliable and direct with your communication style.
  • Build your relationships by inviting others to coffee or lunch outside of the office.

3. Let your team know you can help 

A critical component of leadership is developing a sense of what's important for you to do in times of stress.

First, tell your employees that if they find themselves in over their head, or if they’ve tried to resolve a conflict and the negative behavior continues to impede their work, they can talk to you. As a higher-up in your organization, you can provide recommendations and bring in another manager or someone from human resources for mediation.

Some suggestions for helping people work together:

  • Use your best listening skills so you can readily identify their concerns and the cause of the problem.
  • Encourage the two sides to put aside their differences and find common ground — such as the desire to help the company to succeed.
  • Make it clear that their cooperation is required, and then continue to monitor the situation, so the issue doesn’t fester and become worse.

When people believe their voices are being heard, they are more likely to perform at their best. Communication goes both ways, so inspire a relationship where they give you timely status reports and feedback about difficulties or challenges.

4. View everything as a learning opportunity

Conflict in the workplace can be very disruptive and create stress — including for team members not involved directly in the dispute. However, your workers can learn from these experiences. Differing opinions can stimulate innovation and give added impetus for team building.

Helping to resolve disagreements and misunderstandings can put those you manage in a better position to assume leadership roles in your company. For example, you can let an employee know that effectively working well with others and using tact and diplomacy can help with career advancement.

5. Criticize gently and praise achievement 

In a perfect world, everyone on your staff would be flawless at their jobs. But the reality is that they will make mistakes, get into arguments, experience personnel problems, miss deadlines.

Sometimes, you’ll need to call attention to a staff member’s shortcomings. When you do, take care to preserve that individual’s dignity in the process. Meet in private and allow that person to explain the problem and what might have led to it. Rather than assigning blame, reframe a mistake or failure as a lesson, and focus on what might be done differently in the future.

All professionals appreciate recognition, particularly when they’ve put in extra time or effort. So celebrate resolution when your team achieves it. Even if they’ve made just small progress, be sure to congratulate them on their progress. That will help them to stay focused on improvement and will help you to foster a more peaceful and productive work environment for your staff.

Looking for more strategies that can help you to build a positive culture in your workplace? Download Robert Half’s free research report, The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees, for tips on increasing your finance and accounting team's level of job satisfaction.

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