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Practical Tips for Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

A group of people in a conference room working to solve a conflict in the workplace.

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

No matter what your career path, workplace conflict is nearly impossible to avoid. But while conflict in the workplace is often feared and avoided, learning some simple negotiation strategies can help turn moments of conflict into opportunities for personal and professional growth.

A 2017 survey from Accountemps, a temporary staffing agency for finance professionals, found that CFOs spend an average of six hours a week managing staff conflicts. In a 2016 survey of 83 executives, the leaders estimated their companies wasted an average of more than $7,000 a day on unproductive workplace conflicts.

Why is so much attention paid to workplace conflict? Dr. George Lucas, co-author of "The One-Minute Negotiator," said it arises from a collective fear of negotiation - something he calls "negotiaphobia."

"It comes down to the fact that we don't have much skill development taking place in that area," said Lucas. "We see it as conflictual and damaging relationships, but those are not inherent characteristics of negotiations."

Lucas said that simply learning how to negotiate and practicing conflict resolution skills can boost productivity and employee engagement.

The Art of Negotiation: Discovering What's Non-Negotiable

Lucas has made a career out of improving workplace conflicts and negotiations. From an early role as a sales manager, developing a college course centered on negotiation skills, consulting and finally, co-authoring his book, Lucas has had a front row seat to a lot of tricky situations.  

Throughout all of his work, Lucas said he sees one negotiation mistake being made more than any other: compromise.

"I hate compromise ... People say compromise makes everyone happy but in its truest form it just makes everybody mad," Lucas said. "What we're really saying is you need some creative concession making ...You need to know your non-negotiables."

According to Lucas, negotiations often derail because workers don't go to the negotiation table prepared to talk things out. It's key to identify in advance those areas in which you're willing to bend, and those areas in which you are not, he said.

This strategy can be applied to just about any workplace conflict or business negotiation you face, Lucas said, and can keep small problems from turning into bigger ones.

Better Salary Negotiation

Whether you're just starting your career or hoping to move into a new role, salary negotiation is an important part of the job-seeking process.

Kendra Thomas"Everyone, no matter their level of experience can and should negotiate perks and salary once an offer is extended," said Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) career advisor Kendra Thomas.

According to a 2018 survey from staffing agency Robert Half, only about 39% of workers tried to negotiate the salary for their last job offer. But negotiating for a higher salary can be very important for your overall salary potential: a 2017 study found that almost all income growth takes place in the first 10 years of your career.

So how can you be better prepared for salary negotiations? Do your research before heading in to a job interview, said SNHU career advisor Christopher Dodds.

"Know your industry," he said. "There are several factors that go into negotiating a salary that you have to consider: your location, your level of experience in the industry, whether it's a nonprofit vs. for profit company and the total compensation package."

Dodds recommends researching salary information and growth for the job you're interested in on websites like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Glassdoor. Once you've completed your research, Dodds said it's best to submit a salary proposal via email to create documentation of the conversation.

Once a job offer is extended, ask for 25 or 48 hours to review the offer and the company's benefits package before making a counter offer, said SNHU career advisor Sonja Moffett.

If your counter-offer is rejected or salary is non-negotiable, there may be other areas of compensation that you can negotiate, such as additional vacation days, sick time or even company stock options. An increase in salary after a certain length of employment or a performance review could also be negotiated.

Negotiating for Promotions and Raises

Like salary negotiations, learning how to negotiate a raise can be a scary prospect for a lot of workers. But done correctly, it is a great opportunity to advance your career, grow your income and demonstrate your worth to your employer.

Keeping track of your accomplishments throughout your tenure with a company is an important proactive step toward stronger negotiations when looking for a raise or promotion, said Thomas. Add your accomplishments to your resume, LinkedIn profile and portfolios so you can easily share them with your boss and schedule an official meeting to make your case about why you deserve what you're asking for.

SNHU career advisor Laurie Lewis said that timing is also key when discussing a promotion or raise. Don't try to discuss a promotion with a large project deadline looming, she said. Instead, wait until the successful completion of that project and leadership is likely to be more receptive to your requests.

Interpersonal Conflicts

Conflicts with peers and management are almost impossible to avoid, but with a little preparation and thought it is possible to keep small disagreements from turning into productivity-quashing conflicts.

"Many people really don't sit down and think about and prepare for an encounter," said Lucas. "More and more today we tend to rush. People sit down, they're angry, they crank out an email, hit reply-all and then you've got a [problem] in a heartbeat."

Many conflicts can be easily solved by simply having an in-person conversation, Lucas said.

"You have to tell people how you feel and what you need," he said. "A lot of times people assign motives to people that are very negative based on prior experience, but once you have that conversation many times you find out there was no motive behind their behavior. We all jump to conclusions."

How you have that conversation with a coworker is also critical. According to Moffet, it's important to avoid personal attacks or language that might make your coworker defensive and instead to focus on clearly explaining the situation or behavior that was an issue and how it impacted you.

"Usually when you do that, it calms the other person down and can really open up a positive relationship," she said. "That person now understands you better and how to communicate with you. It fosters a better relationship and more collaboration going forward."

Sojna MoffettOf course, not all conflicts can be resolved without the help of a manager, and having a third party present for conflict mediation can be helpful in keeping the discussion from getting too heated. A manager or human resource director can also help to devise a plan moving forward to keep the same conflict from arising again, and should always be consulted in issues of harassment, said Dodds.

Improving Your Conflict Management Skills

Practicing conflict resolutions skills is a great way to boost your work performance, help start a new career or prepare for a management position. From workplace training to webinars, online courses and business negotiation books, there are many opportunities to hone these tactics.

If you really want to dive in to conflict management or are considering a career in the field, then a degree in industrial-organization psychology might be right for you. No matter what training path you take, improving your conflict management skills can help you grow and find more fulfillment in your career.

"This is business, and how you handle stress will really help you to establish yourself professionally," said Moffett "Those people that can handle the stress of conflict and rejection, those are the people that can move forward.

Danielle Gagnon is a marketing writer at Southern New Hampshire University.

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.