70% of workers claim that right now is the most stressful time of their entire professional careers. A global pandemic, working from home, virtual classrooms, and an uncertain economy are all contributing factors to these high levels of stress. Higher stress levels combined with social distancing and remote communications can also lead to a greater likelihood of conflict in the workplace.  In fact, when your workplace is less office and more computer screen, it can cause employees to either avoid conflict all together or escalate minor disputes into even bigger conflicts. In the long run, both conflict avoidance and conflict escalation are bad for the health of individual workers and the overall health of any organization.

When it comes to managing workplace conflict right now, here are 3 tips that can help:

  • Encourage a culture of feedback. Make positive and constructive feedback the norm in your organization. Encourage employees and managers to offer kudos to one another in meetings, online and in front of others. Everyone likes to be valued and appreciated, so speak up when you notice someone doing something well.

At the same time, it is also important to encourage constructive feedback not constructive criticism.

Criticism is focused on someone else’s faults or problems and is typically concentrated on past behavior. Feedback still involves evaluating performance or behavior but, it also includes helpful information or data to assist with improvements for the future.  Constructive feedback is about supporting personal and professional growth and not about personal attacks or verbal assaults. If employees feel their style or work performance is being criticized, they often shut down or become defensive. The last thing they want to do is listen to suggestions from someone else on how they should change. So, the trick is to focus your feedback less on a negative view of the past and more on the positive ways to improve or adjust for the future.

  • Allow space and grace. Stress, fatigue and uncertainty can all lead to less than perfect communication and a strain on workplace relationships. When we are working from home and on our own, we miss out on our usual water cooler conversations with co-workers, shared coffee breaks, and the other typical ways we would connect and bond with colleagues when we are in-person. This lack of connection also leads to less outward focus and a more inward, and often narrowed, view of the world.

We can start to let the little things get to us, assume bad intent when none is there, or just forget that everyone is struggling right now and we could all use a little of what I call “space and grace.” Space and grace is all about the extra time, energy and patience it may take to allow others around you to make mistakes or take a little more time to reply to your emails or just to work at pace that may be different than your expectation. That doesn’t mean that work won’t get done but, it does mean understanding that life is very, very different for everyone right now and we all need to remember to support one another as much as possible.

  • Listen More. Ever heard that old saying “we have 2 ears and one mouth so we should use them in that ratio?” In other words, it can be valuable practice to listen more and talk less. The idea is that effective listening can go a long way in helping others feel supported and to feel heard. When employees feel supported and heard research tells us that employee engagement and retention increase. So, doing something as simple as making time to really listen to others – without offering our input, suggestions or comments – often promotes understanding and decreases the chances of misunderstandings, miscommunication and other mishaps turning into major workplace conflicts.

One way to listen more is to try using the 70/30 rule. The 70/30 rule has been applied to business tactics (effective salespeople let the client talk 70% of the time while they only speak 30% of the time), to wellness goals (70 % of the time is spent on healthy eating and exercise with 30% of the time for more flexibility) and even to finance (to build personal wealth use 70% of your income for expenses and 30% for savings). The 70/30 rule also applies to listening and can be used for any conversation where you want to build rapport and achieve more effective results. Try it in your next one-on-one discussion with an employee or in your next team meeting. When others are given the space to share, and someone is there to listen to them less than talk at them, you’d be surprised at the results.

Tara B Taylor, MPA
Managing Director