Interpersonal conflicts will occasionally arise in the workplace due to natural differences in human personality, beliefs or work ethics. Co-workers may disagree over problem-solving tactics or shared resources, or employees may enter conflict with customers and clients. Managers and supervised employees can also fall into routine disagreements over managerial style or workplace expectations. Interpersonal conflict can lead to lost productivity and profits, but there are also ethical considerations that make workplace interpersonal conflict problematic. Interpersonal conflicts including jealousy, competition, squabbling, vicious gossip or intimidation violate this principle of ethical interactions with other people.
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One ethical consideration related to interpersonal conflict is the work contract between employers and workers. Employers hire individuals with the expectation that employees can fulfill job responsibilities, interact professionally with clients and co-workers, and commit their energy and skills to the company goals and mission. When interpersonal conflicts become a central component of employees’ workdays, this reduces the amount of time and energy that workers have available to commit to their responsibilities. Ethical problems arise when workers continue to receive a regular paycheck and benefits when their professional focus has diminished because of conflicts with others
Interpersonal conflict sometimes results in formal or informal workplace mediation so that involved parties can come to a mutually agreeable solution. Impartiality becomes a key ethical consideration related to interpersonal conflict for mediators. For example, a manager may be called upon to mediate conflict between another manager and a supervised employee. Organizational culture might pressure the mediating manager into siding with the manager in conflict, but there’s an ethical obligation to listen to both sides of the story to determine whether the supervised employee has been wronged.
Most people have no interest in creating conflict with others. Most of us know enough about human behavior to distinguish between healthy communication and the words or actions that contribute to rocky relationships. It is in our interest to maintain relations which are smooth, flexible, and mutually enhancing. The problem occurs when we fail to use cooperative approaches consistently in our dealing with others. We seldom create conflict intentionally. We do it because we may not be aware of how our own behavior contributes to interpersonal problems. Sometimes we forget, or we are frustrated and annoyed, and sometimes we just have a bad day. At times we feel so exasperated that we focus on our own needs at the expense of others’. And then we find ourselves in conflict.
To prevent conflict from happening in the first place, it is important to identify the ways in which we contribute to the disagreement. One way of doing this is to identify a specific, recent conflicted situation, recall what you said, and then think specifically about how you could have used more effective language. Think about ways in which your communication could have set a more trustful tone or reduced defensiveness. Then, once you have identified your part in the conflict, such as blaming, practice working on that particular behavior for a day or a week.