HR Leads Business

Jun 6, 2019 | Ginny Engholm

Streamlining Conflict Resolution Through Technology

Workplace conflict reportedly costs companies $359 billion a year, so it’s not surprising that employers are always looking for ways to minimize that conflict.

Conflict-resolution processes are a traditional way to deal with work-related conflicts, but they often rely on face-to-face interactions. As more and more of our lives occurs in online spaces, employers are turning to technology to find solutions for conflict when face-to-face resolution isn’t possible.

But employers should be cautious about removing the human element from conflict resolution since the process is inherently about interpersonal interactions and relationships, and it can be difficult to replicate that dynamic in an online environment, says Ariel Avgar, an associate professor at Cornell University’s ILR School and an associate director at the university’s Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution.

Here are some ways that employers can use technology to streamline conflict resolution.

Help Establish Patterns of Bad Behavior

The first step in resolving conflict is understanding what “conflict” in the workplace actually means. Jennifer Hancock, founder of Humanist Learning Systems, says inappropriate behaviors have no place in a successful work environment, and they shouldn’t be treated as “conflict.” “It’s not enough to manage inappropriate workplace behavior. You have to eliminate it,” Hancock says.

Technology can be an immense help in identifying and tracking potential areas of conflict. Patterns of inappropriate behavior, commonly referred to as “microaggressions,” often go unremarked and therefore can’t be proven and eliminated. People who feel subjected to microaggressions should feel encouraged and empowered by their employer to keep and share a record of any harmful behaviors. Technology can also provide a safe and anonymous outlet for whistle-blowers, so that problems can be identified and eliminated before they escalate.

Create Opportunities for Conflict Resolution in Remote Environments

Face-to-face resolution will always be ideal, but what about for employees who work remotely? When employees are scattered around the globe, conflict resolution may require internet-based solutions.

Patrycja Szostakowska, people and culture leader at Codility, suggests using tech that gives the best approximation of human interaction, such as video chats and other live means of engaging. “A video call is optimal so that body language can be read and difficult emotions can be more easily expressed,” she says. Relegating something to an online space can sometimes be misread as disinterest, so it’s important for employers to foreground the issue by replicating active listening and engaged behavior in any online conflict-resolution process.

Be Part of a Comprehensive Conflict-Resolution Process

It’s important to realize that while technology is sometimes necessary and often incredibly helpful, it can’t replace the human element in conflict resolution. “There's no easy technological fix to conflict in the workplace,” Avgar says. “Technology can enhance the capacity to resolve conflicts, but it can't serve as the Uber of conflict.” The temptation to outsource issues can be very strong, but ultimately conflict must be resolved within the company.

The best way to utilize tech in conflict resolution is as a single piece of a puzzle. Employers should take a comprehensive approach to conflict management, recognizing that individual conflicts require individual solutions. Some conflicts can be resolved via technology, but it’s crucial to maintain face-to-face avenues of resolution as well.