How to Handle Interpersonal Conflict in the Workplace

Published: April 12, 2022 | Last Updated: December 4, 2023by Kent McGroarty

Interpersonal conflict in the workplace can occur at any time, and involves two or more people. It happens when one or more individuals interfere with another individual’s work goals, assignments, or projects, resulting in tension and upset. If these types of conflicts are recent events in your office or other work environment, there are numerous healthy and effective ways to handle them. Review some of the best methods here to encourage a more communicative, harmonious workplace.

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Determine the Cause

Some conflicts occur simply because of miscommunication, while others have to do with differences over work methods, values, and assorted policies. No matter what the source of the issue is, remain professional instead of doing anything that can make it appear like you are taking sides. Your impartiality is essential to successful conflict resolution, as any hint of a subjective opinion can cause further discord and strife. Use every conflict issue as an opportunity to remain calm, reasonable, and rational.

To identify the exact cause of the problem, meet with the involved individuals one-on-one. Discussing the issue in a group setting, at least initially, can result in heightened tension, accusations, and even insults. Rather than allowing emotions to “run high,” use individual meetings to hear every side of the issue. Take notes or record the sessions to help you remember what each person said about the problem.

Select the Right Time of Day 

It helps to choose the right time for conversations about the conflict at hand. Asking team members to come in at the end of the day, especially the end of a Friday, is not the best way to move forward. Employees are tired and just want to go home by such times, and might not discuss the issue fully because they are agitated. Morning meetings are generally best, because everyone is fresh and ready to discuss the issue. Getting the discussions out of the way first thing also avoids that familiar sense of dread that you do not want your employees to experience.

Select a meeting room that is away from the main office, as it prevents other employees from listening in when they should be working. Choosing an out-of-the-way location subsequently helps prevent gossip.

Be Solution-Focused

As important as it is to hear everyone involved in the conflict discuss it at length, it is equally important to focus on the solution. Acknowledge the problem(s) to show your team that you respect their feelings, then emphasize potential ways to resolve the issue. For example, perhaps having an objective mediator come in to handle future conflicts is best for the office, or maybe starting each week with a team meeting where everyone gets to discuss potential issues is ideal. Perhaps team-building sessions are what is necessary to help employees learn more about each other and enjoy closer working relationships. If you select team-building exercises, focus on those that promote empathy, open communication, active listening, awareness, and saying no to grudges.

Wrapping Up

Learning how to handle interpersonal conflict at work definitely takes time, and that is okay. Use every conflict as an opportunity to grow as a team and learn more about how to work together successfully. Practice empathy at every opportunity and make it clear that your team can come to you with questions, concerns, or issues they have. If you communicate openly, your employees will too. And remember, for problems you feel require professional attention, opt for mediation services. An objective outsider could be exactly what your team needs to thrive.

For more about handling interpersonal conflict in the workplace, contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today!

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Kent McGroarty