Proactive ways to manage workplace conflict

Prominent American psychologist Kenneth Kaye once stated that “conflict is neither good nor bad. Properly managed it is absolutely vital”, and many business owners around the world would certainly agree. Conflict is really a typical part of any business. Whether you are a large corporation or a small family-owned business conflicts are inevitable.

The difference between workplace conflicts that are destructive to a business as opposed to constructive simply comes down to proactive conflict resolution and management. Without employers taking responsibility to manage conflicts in the workplace effectively, by getting on the front foot and preventing an escalation of issues, workplace conflicts can very quickly cause adverse consequences for businesses, with impacts felt on both productivity, financial and morale levels.

We take a look at what workplace conflict is and why proactive conflict management strategies are absolutely essential for your business.

What is workplace conflict?

Workplace conflicts, just like your employees, can come in various shapes and sizes, which will depend greatly on your business structure and the number of employees you have within your business. The greater the number of employees and the more complex of a business structure, such as businesses tiered management levels, the greater the chances that your business will experience conflict within the workplace.

Generally, workplace conflicts emerge within a workplace between;

  • Employers and employees

  • Management and employees

  • Employers and Management

  • Employees and Employees

  • Customers and Employees

A large majority of workplace conflicts are one-off events, and isolated incidents which can be easily resolved between the parties, and often stem from deficiencies in communication or basic misunderstandings. However, there are workplace conflicts that are more complex and require proactive and efficient management to be resolved.

Different types of workplace conflict

There are many different circumstances that can create a conflict within the workplace, with some of the most typical disputes occurring Workplace disputes can arise due to a variety of factors, which include;

Personality Conflicts

With every employee having different mannerisms, views and ethical opinions conflicts with management, colleagues and customers can arise whereby another party does not agree, with some people being deeply passionate about their viewpoint.


With every employee being different, some employees are not easily managed, and can take management decisions personally. Instances where this can occur include feedback being taken as an insult, or a change in role viewed as a demotion or lack of respect.

Wage Disputes

Employees typically turn up to work to get paid, so an error or a miscalculation with an employee's wage can lead to a conflict. Another example of a wage conflict can include an employee not feeling that their wage reflects their role and position within the business.

Cultural and Political Disputes

With Australia having such a culturally diverse population, workplace conflicts related to differences in race, culture, religious or political views can occur between colleagues, management and customers who access the business.

3 key steps to proactive conflict resolution

When conflicts do arise in the workplace it is important to get on top of them early and manage in a proactive manner, to ensure that the effects of the conflict do not escalate, with the issues becoming widespread across your business.

In order to achieve this, it is essential that employers use the 3 key steps of proactive conflict management, which are;

  1. Identifying the conflict and those involved as quickly as possible

  2. Contain the conflict within the workplace, ensuring that other employees who are not directly involved stay removed from the conflict

  3. Effectively manage the conflict, ensuring an appropriate resolution is achieved.

Proactive resolution strategies

Once you have identified the conflict and contained the conflict within the workplace, there are strategies that can be used to ensure that a resolution that is acceptable to all parties is achieved. These include;

  • Actively listening to each party. Allowing the parties to explain, identify and describe the issues that they have and express their viewpoint on what an ideal resolution would be for them

  • Use role reversal techniques to assist each of the parties to view the issue from the opposing standpoint

  • Find common ground and points that each party agrees on in relation to the issue and work from there to get to the bottom of the problem

  • Be impartial as employers who appear to take one particular side in a conflict can actually escalate an issue as opposed to resolving it.

If it is not possible or constructive to the conflict, such in instances where the employer and management are part of the conflict, using an impartial third party or a mediator can also assist in ensuring that a conflict is managed proactively, with a resolution and an outcome achieved.

Employer responsibilities and policies and procedures

Employers have a responsibility to their employees to have clearly written and defined policies and procedures in place to deal with workplace conflicts. These documents should be reviewed regularly and are also an important proactive conflict management tool. With effective, relevant, and up-to date policies and procedure documents in place, employers have guidance on how to manage the conflict, so rather than acting on their feet, they can follow a process to achieve an outcome.

Without proactive conflict management, employers start conflict management on the backfoot and have no guidance or clearly defined process to follow, in order to quickly and effectively manage the conflict. Having clearly defined terms and conditions in place and also through the use of proactive conflict management strategies, employers can quickly resolve conflicts and ensure that workplace issues are isolated events rather than issues that consistently have a negative effect on workplace culture.

Contact us today on (02) 8320 9320 or to support the development and rollout of your Griveance policy or any other HR and People need your business is facing.

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