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How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace  

2023-12-10 – BE&O RYB

As remote work ends for many, employees are returning to the office, and with that return comes a familiar problem: workplace conflict. But one organization is offering help. 

Specializing in arbitration and resolving workplace conflicts, JAMS Pathways has made its mission one of bringing harmony back to the workplace. 

Richard Birke is a leading conflict resolution practitioner at JAMS, and he says although workplace violence has been on a steady decrease since the 1990s, there’s still plenty of conflict in offices across America. 

Birke says there seems to be more rudeness than ever in the workplace, which may have been hidden by working from home, but now that more people are face-to-face in offices, the problem is starting to show itself.  

“People need to be on their guard,” Birke says. Many workplace issues stem from people feeling like they are not treated fairly, and many times, a simple conversation can mend broken fences and repair relationships.   

Birke also says that as the holiday party season nears, employers shouldn’t rely on boozy parties to heal divisions. “Forced socialization doesn’t always help,” Birke says. With many workers being out of practice on socialization skills since working from home, it may be best to keep the parties limited to an hour or so and minimize the amount of alcohol available. 

Regarding advice for company leaders, Birke says they should not be afraid to access training on mediation and facilitation skills. This could help keep conflicts from growing out of control. Birke tells leaders to ask questions and to not always be in a hurry to act immediately. “Replace judgment with curiosity,” he says.  

Birke also points out that not all conflict is bad. Task-oriented conflict is very different from relationship conflict. Task conflict often helps people understand all perspectives when approaching a solution to a problem, and it can often help the organization’s overall mission.

Most importantly, Birke says it’s important to know when you are in over your head as a leader and when it’s time to seek professional help to resolve workplace conflicts.   

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