Company Culture | Article

4 Golden Rules for Diffusing Workplace Conflict

Conflict is inevitable. And when it does arise, HR leaders can follow four golden rules to ensure a smooth resolution.

Poor communication, lack of role clarity, and heavy workloads. These are the top 3 causes of workplace conflict. And they are not uncommon considering employees and leaders spend over four hours each week dealing with workplace conflict. In fact, 36% of employees report dealing with such conflicts either “often” or “all the time.”

The problem with this is that it affects employee safety, productivity, quality, and retention. But since conflict is bound to happen at some point, people leaders need to know how to address it.

The 3 Golden Rules

1. Civility

The first rule is practicing civility. In conflict resolution, it’s crucial to convey your message while maintaining kindness in your tone and facial expressions. It acknowledges basic human dignity and communicates respect. Harsh words, tones, and expressions can trigger a fight-or-flight response, hindering the chances of a constructive resolution.

2. Candor

The second rule is embracing candor. All parties involved must be willing to address underlying tensions and concerns openly. Avoid the temptation to prematurely “resolve” conflicts by sweeping issues under the rug. This can lead to unresolved wounds that resurface later, often more intensely than before.

3. Active Listening

The third rule is active listening. Conflicts often arise from negative assumptions, many of which may be erroneous. Listening – and actually hearing rather than preparing a response – is essential for parties involved in conflicts. Be open to differing views and ensure everyone understands each other’s positions.

One Extra Golden Rule

On top of the three rules, it’s crucial to ensure that conversations about conflicts are forward-looking. Avoid dwelling on who is right or wrong about past events. Doing so makes it difficult to move forward and find peace. What matters most is finding a clear path forward that benefits all employees.

When addressing workplace conflicts, these rules can be applied in two scenarios:

When You’re a Direct Party to the Conflict

If you find yourself in a conflict with a colleague, it’s important to initiate a constructive conversation during a period of relative calm. This helps reduce the chances of a defensive response. Start by proposing the three rules to your colleague. Emphasize the importance of civility, candor, and active listening. Then, share your concerns, addressing the “elephants in the room.”

Incorporate the golden rule by focusing on the path forward and inviting your colleague to do the same. This approach encourages open dialogue, mutual respect, and a search for solutions that work for both of you.

When You’re Acting as a Mediator

HR professionals often play the role of mediator when conflicts arise among employees. In this scenario, invite the direct parties to a facilitated discussion and introduce the three rules. Stress the importance of their commitment to following these rules throughout the resolution process.

Your role as a mediator is to encourage candor while modeling active listening. Avoid allowing venting during the discussion, instead encouraging direct and candid communication while maintaining civility. After all parties have expressed their concerns, suggest potential next steps based on what you’ve observed. Confirm the agreed-upon path forward in a Same Day Summary.

Workplace conflict is a real and challenging issue, but it isn’t necessarily a negative one. When approached with the right, conflict can transform into a catalyst for positive outcomes. It can lead to new ideas, innovations, and improved relationships. Rather than avoiding or suppressing conflict, HR professionals and employees alike can embrace it as an opportunity for growth and development. By practicing civility, candor, and active listening, and by focusing on the path forward, we can turn workplace conflict into a positive force within organizations.