Resolving Workspace Conflict

How do we resolve workspace conflict so that people are excited to work and bitterness, negativity, strife, etc. is curbed? 

First off, I don’t believe there’s a way to stop conflict, in fact conflict is part of a healthy organization. The question for us is what is the plan for resolution. Here are some thoughts from our journey.

In resolving workspace conflict (aka offenses) we’ve learned that the culture of the organization either breeds offenses or stops them. So we’ve found that overarching cultural changes and training are needed to resolve conflict.

Resolving Conflict

Talk

Be open and honest about how you feel. That means letting people know if you’re upset and offended, and making it a point to talk to the person you’re offended with.

It’s okay to be wrong (ownership)

This is more of a culture point than an in the moment part of the conversation. But having the mindset of “I’m wrong about at least part of this conflict, and I’m willing to own my side of things”, changes the entire conversation. If there is conflict then it’s never 100% fault on one side, instead both sides are partially wrong. 

Discover

Ask discovery questions. For example, “why do you feel this way?” and “when did you start feeling this way?”

Don’t fix 

Help each other by encouraging conversation, discovery and empathy, but don’t try to fix each other. That means don’t offer advice without permission. 

Matthew 18

In the Bible Jesus talks in Matthew 18 about resolving offenses. First He says to go one on one with the person you’re offended with. Then if that doesn’t work to bring along one or two others to help resolve the offense. If that doesn’t work then bring the person in front of the whole church to discuss the matter. This principle works in life and business.

Timeliness

Talk about offenses in the moment, not weeks or months later. If something is bothersome, hurtful or pricking in any way, it’s okay to bring it up. One of the worst things is letting an offense fester for weeks or months and going unresolved. If it goes unresolved then the offended person spreads bitterness and division.

Cultural Changes

We’ve learned that in order to resolve conflict better we’ve needed a change in our culture. 

Here are some broad principles we’ve implemented as an organization that have helped tremendously regarding resolving workspace conflict. 

  • Pass the ball — No selfish play – work as a team and have clear hand-off points with no bottlenecks
  • Clearly defined roles
  • Trust each other
  • Fail forward
  • Recap

Pass the ball

We share responsibility as a team to win. That means everyone is responsible for their individual work as well as passing the ball when their work is done. For example: after Stage 2 of Project X is completed, Employee A will hand off the keys to Employee B for Stage 3. Employee A is not allowed to touch project X until Stage 3 is completed and Stage 4 begins.

Clearly defined roles

Job descriptions have to be clear. For example, a level 1 Developer does X and Y, while a level 2 Developer does X, Y and Z. 

If someone works outside of their designated role it breeds uncertainty. If we’re uncertain then there’s room for offense.

Trust each other

Having a culture of trust means everyone is free to talk with everyone else. It also means we believe each other, and give each other room to fail. We have internal training on how we talk to each other about conflict which follows the Matthew 18 principle in the Bible. 

Fail Forward

When we make mistakes we learn from them and grow. We believe that failure is an opportunity, not a reason to hide. We celebrate learning from failure and reward growth from failure. 

Recap

We send recap emails to summarize what we talk about. This helps us all have a written record to go back and reference. That way if there’s ever a future conflict around the same topic we can look back at the recap and see what’s changed.   

Conclusion

Jesus said, “offenses will come”, so we believe it’s normal to have conflict and offenses. The question we want answered is, “how do we have a healthier environment that doesn’t have bitterness, selfish play, etc.?” Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.