By ACE team
Image credit: Experiential
What is the question we are thinking about?
In the workplace, we often find ourselves navigating hierarchies of management, and interacting with other people. Undoubtedly, being a collaborator in the modern workplace is an essential skillset. At the same time, teams are not always created with cohesion in mind. As such we often find ourselves in situations where we have to work with people that we don’t get along with. Sometimes, this can lead to workplace conflict, which must be resolved professionally. But what is the best way to deal with workplace conflict?
Why is this an important topic for citizens?
Workplace conflict is unfortunately an unavoidable reality of working in any form of group. Conflict resolution is an essential skill for the modern workplace. Developing this skill can improve group morale in the workplace, increase agreeableness amongst coworkers, and reduce stress (Alper, Tjosvold, & Law, 2000).
What credible and appropriate evidence did we find, and what did it say?
Our search found two evidence syntheses discussing workplace conflict that are highlighted below.
The literature outlines several different options for dealing with workplace conflict (Zhang et al., 2018).
- Using a third party to intervene in the situation formally
- Asking a peer to intervene informally
- Talking with a peer to help reframe the situation from one party’s perspective.
The review also offered different kinds of support that a third party can offer:
- Relational: The third party focuses on the relationship of the people involved.
- Procedural: The third party focuses on structuring conversation, prioritising issues, and evaluating what procedural options are available.
- Emotional: The third party focuses on offering emotional support and listening in order to validate and address one party’s feelings towards the conflict.
- Content: The third party focuses on brainstorming ideas that might directly help address the conflict.
The research found that using any one or a combination of these methods leads to an increased sense of justice, and decreased the likelihood of later aggressive behaviours. Interestingly, it was found that female intermediaries were better able to please both parties in a dispute.
Unfortunately this review did not have information regarding the impact or effectiveness of third party interventions, and only explored kinds and outcomes of interventions.
Oore et al. (2015) conducted a narrative review synthesising research from various disciplines. They outlined three traits that were likely to improve outcomes in workplace conflict:
- New angles: Being able to view the situation from different perspectives improves outcomes of conflict. In fact, being able to see the other party’s point of view is more important in mitigating conflict in the workplace than is demonstrating empathy. In effect, being able to look at the conflict as an outsider reduces personal bias, and increases the likelihood of high-quality, sustainable solutions.
- Think win-win: Wanting to satisfy both yourself and the other party increases likelihood of better outcomes. Avoidant behaviours do not improve outcomes in the long run, neither does insistence on having one party’s conditions be met. Rather, it is recommended that parties ease into outcomes respectfully to try to please themselves and the other.
And breathe: Lastly, successfully managing negative emotions brought about by the conflict reduces the likelihood of allowing the situation to escalate and subsequent aggressive behaviours. For example, mindfulness techniques can prove a useful mechanism for effectively managing stress.
What are we as citizens to do next?
It is important to remember that no matter how bad the conflict is, there is always a way to address the situation professionally. The literature discussed here explores two main avenues for conflict resolution:
- Seeking third party help. Relying on peers and others in the workplace can improve the likelihood of positive outcomes, even if it is just talking it through with somebody you trust.
- Personal reflection on the situation. Looking at the conflict from other perspectives and making an effort to remove emotion from the situation can improve the quality of solutions, as well as reduce aggressive behaviours.
How and where did we search, together with a confidence statement about what we found?
We searched through the Campbell Collaboration, the EPPI Centre’s library, and the 3ie Systematic Review Database and could not find any reviews on the topic. A search in the academic database JSTOR yielded one relevant narrative review. An online hand search then yielded one additional systematic review paper that was also be discussed in this brief in order to gather a more holistic perspective on workplace conflict resolution. It is important to note that both of these reviews were exploratory in nature.
Alper, S., Tjosvold, D. and Law, K.S., 2000. Conflict management, efficacy, and performance in organizational teams. Personnel psychology, 53(3), pp.625-642.
Oore, D., Leiter, M.P. and LeBlanc, D.E., 2015. Individual and organizational factors promoting successful responses to workplace conflict. Canadian Psychology/psychologie canadienne, 56(3), p.301.
Zhang, X., Bollen, K., Pei, R. and Euwema, M.C., Peacemaking at the Workplace: A Systematic Review. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research.