Ignoring a conflict at work rarely results in a positive outcome.
On the contrary, small frustrations and irritations are likely to grow and fester into something larger, possibly leading to workplace discrimination, bullying, or other serious problems. Unhappy employees are less able to focus on work, leading to reduced productivity for the company and poorer mental health. Employees experiencing workplace conflict and tension are also more likely to have issues with absenteeism.
Conflict at work is something no employee wishes to encounter. Yet, with increasing political divisiveness and racial inequality discussions, tensions are likely to occur. Even beyond these turbulent topics, there are many issues that can generate significant conflict in the workplace, such as personality differences, unpaid wages, poor communication or misunderstandings, and even sexual harassment. If you are currently experiencing conflict in the workplace, here are some strategies to de-escalate the problem and encourage mediation.
When striving to resolve conflicts at work, it is important to evaluate your own frame of mind. This provides greater insight into your own feelings and opinions on the matter. It is also important to clarify the issue, firstly for yourself. What solution are you hoping for? You should also examine how long this particular issue has been occurring. Is it new or is it something you have been enduring for years? Approaching all sorts of conflict, from those as serious discrimination to those as minor as miscommunication, can help you resolve the issue as effectively and thoroughly as possible.
The strategies you choose to resolve work conflicts will depend on your particular situation. For instance, if you are upset or irritated by the behavior and/comments of an employer or coworker, the first step could be to schedule a time to discuss it with them privately. Try to approach the conversation with as little defensiveness as possible.
Attempt to see the issue from their perspective. Did you do anything to contribute to the conflict? Is it possible that you misunderstood what they said or did? Another point to remember during a discussion is to keep your grievances relevant and focused. Listing off too many complaints or those that date back years will likely cause your points to lose validity.
In the meeting, be clear about your concerns while also remaining open to the other party’s interpretation and responses. For instance, you might ask them to share their take on the matter. When the person responds, be willing to listen. Respond with a statement such as “Thank you for sharing your point of view” or “I didn’t think of it that way.”
Finally, wrap up the conversation with some concrete actions and goals. Is there something you need the person to stop doing or saying? Is there an alternative work process you could both agree on? Set goals or intentions before ending the meeting so both parties are clear on what comes next.
Another painful issue some employees must face in the workplace is sexual harassment. If you are currently experiencing this, there are two important points to consider that may be beneficial when pursuing future legal action. First, ensure you are clear with the person or persons that you are not interested and want the behavior to stop. Say no in person or in writing—or both. Do not feel pressured to engage in flirting or laugh at jokes you don’t think are funny or find inappropriate.
Second, report the harassment to your employer, whether that is your boss, a supervisor, or someone in the human resources department. It is best to report sexual harassment in writing and follow your company’s policy as closely as possible. Regardless of how your company responds, this creates a record that you did report the problem.
In addition to the workplace concerns discussed so far, unpaid wages are another reality many employees must face. Unpaid wages can be due to an employer paying you less than the minimum wage, withholding overtime pay, or not paying you for hours worked. The first step you may want to take is to address the issue directly with your supervisor or human resources department. If the unpaid wages are due to an error, your company may voluntarily pay you the money owed with no further action required on your part.
Different states have different laws when it comes to unpaid wages. For example, Florida employer law requires that an employee provide the employer with written notice of the claim and then allow 15 days for them to provide payment. After that time, the employee can file a civil theft claim against the employer. For that reason, it may be wise to pursue legal counsel to learn the most appropriate steps to take in your particular state.
Encountering conflict in the workplace is never fun. Yet it is helpful to know that your particular problem, whether small or large, does have a solution. For smaller workplace grievances, approach your employer or coworker to set up a private discussion, keep an open mind, be willing to listen, and set concrete goals and follow-up steps.
If you are the victim of workplace sexual harassment, make it clear to the perpetrator you want the behavior to stop. Then, report it to your company in written form. Regardless of your source of conflict, you shouldn’t have to suffer in silence. Open up to those you trust and lean on them for support as you work to resolve the issue.