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Recognizing Unspoken Conflict in the Workplace

Unspoken conflict is largely rooted in unconscious bias so it is hard to recognize and even harder to address. When left unchecked, conflict will fester and create a toxic working environment. This is why it is important to discuss recognizing unspoken conflict in the workplace.

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Unspoken conflict occurs when employees are in a conflict but do not report it to management. If employees do not report conflict to management and they do not attempt to resolve it on their own, this will fester and cause a toxic working environment. This comes down to trust. If your employees do not trust you, they will not come to you when they have a problem.

Negative Body Language

Observing negative body language is the main way to recognize unspoken conflict. Body language can show a person’s unconscious bias towards others and they may not even realize their behavior is negative. Examples of negative body language to watch out for include:

  • Avoiding eye contact – this can show that the person is uncomfortable speaking to someone or they dislike them to the point that they cannot even look at them which is incredibly disrespectful.
  • Crossed arms – this means the person is either defensive or completely closed off when speaking to a colleague. Crossed arms are never a good sign.
  • Frowning – this shows disdain or anger towards a person and/or situation.
  • Body Position – people may combine avoiding eye contact to turning their back on someone who is speaking to them to show their disdain.

Listen to Your Employees

You should also listen to how employees talk about their job. If they are constantly complaining, then this shows they are dissatisfied. This can also allude to the fact that they’re experiencing a personal conflict with someone but they would rather not tell management. So, they transfer their anger to other aspects of their job. At any rate, your employees should trust you enough to talk to you if they’re being disrespected by their colleagues. Also, do not judge an employee who complains all the time, you should ask questions to get to the bottom of the conflict.

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Recognizing Unspoken Conflict in the Workplace – Video available now on the HoffsTech YouTube Channel!

Observe Negative Behaviors

Observing the behavior of people on your team also helps to recognize unspoken conflict. When people who were previously vocal about their opinions begin withdrawing from situations and they stop speaking up, this is not a sign that their conflicts are resolved. It is the opposite. People withdraw when they do not feel listened to and they become disengaged with their work. Ultimately, they end up leaving.

Watch out for teams within your organization forming cliques that are exclusive. It is human nature to drift towards those who are like-minded but it can also make people feel excluded and perpetrate an “us vs. them” mentality. The stress of unspoken conflict can cause physical ailments so you should observe when a person starts calling out frequently due to sickness. They can also be taking time off for job hunting and interviews.

Assess High Staff Turnover

High staff turnover can also be a sign that there is unspoken and/or unmanaged conflict in your workplace. When employees leave, they should be given the opportunity to tell you why and what could have been done to keep them. Most of the time, people will not tell the full truth as they are leaving anyway, but sometimes you will get someone who does tell the truth and the information you gather from that is incredibly important as it allows you to gain insight into what needs to change. However, keep in mind that sometimes high turnover is a good thing and it means that you are supporting the upward mobility of your employees’ careers.

Recognizing Unspoken Conflict in the Workplace – Leadership Courses on Pluralsight

Managing Technical Professionals
Managing Technical Professionals – Available Now on Pluralsight!

You can learn more about about this topic in my Pluralsight course, Managing Technical Professionals. This course includes animated scenario-based training and you will watch as a management team uses leadership best practices to help you get your employees to perform at their highest potential. When you’re finished with this course, you’ll have the skills that you need to provide a positive and productive working environment as well as attract and retain top talent. Click the button below to get started with a free trial today!