9 Tips for Managing Workplace Conflict

Conflict happens at any place where two or more people are interacting regularly. No workplace is exempt from it, even those with the most congenial and unified teams. Poorly managed conflict can lead to weakened working relationships and a less effective team. Well-managed conflict, on the other hand, can serve to strengthen the relationships and lead to new and better ways of doing things.
So, since we can’t expect to prevent all conflict, the best strategy is to foster mutual respect and positive working relationships that are focused on shared goals and the business’s mission. When conflict does arise, here are some methods recommended by HR professionals for resolving workplace conflicts as quickly, fairly, and with the most practical outcomes possible.

The High Cost of Leaving Workplace Conflict Unresolved

Workplace conflict very often starts small, is left to grow, and eventually becomes a much more serious situation. When managers try to avoid conflict, resentments grow around the unaddressed problem, and the atmosphere becomes increasingly toxic, and relationships become unnecessarily severely damaged.
In such working environments, creativity and collaborative culture are diminished. Even basic routine communications and cooperation can become unsustainable. The most talented workers leave to find a more secure working environment. Turnover rates rise, efficiency, productivity, and quality are negatively impacted. Employees become disengaged, customer satisfaction suffers, and profit margins are jeopardized.

Causes of Workplace Conflict

There are many reasons why conflicts arise at work. Often something very simple and fixable is at the core of conflicts between workers: a lack of information, differences of opinion, emotions overriding objectivity, jealousy, competitiveness, various sensitivities, dominate tendencies, pride, tendencies to shift blame, territorial attitudes, self-serving motivations, and just random bad moods, among other causes.
Laying a foundation in a firm policy of contributing to a workplace culture of mutual support, and treating all workers with respect and dignity, and promoting collaborative problem solving is a good way to place clear boundaries on acceptable behavior and encourage approaching conflicts early on and with an eagerness to find mutually acceptable solutions.

Skilled Conflict Management

Leaders with strong conflict resolution skills are not shocked by conflict when it arises. As leaders, they’re adept at creative problem-solving. But, they’ve also made it a priority to understand what it is to exercise empathy, and they have read and been actively practicing their emotional intelligence skills and their active listening skills (neither of which general areas of leadership skill-building can we discuss here).
In addition to self-development in these leadership characteristics, they’ve also learned to apply some key strategies for approaching conflict resolution, including employing these nine approaches listed below.

How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

Of course, above all, demonstrate good leadership character and communication skills, when embarking on conflict resolution at work. There are also some specific methods and techniques you can apply, to help resolve conflict in the most efficient and lasting way possible, to the best advantage of the individual parties, the larger team, and your business:

1. Clarify Your Expectations of Workers’ Behavior.

Make clear for all employees the kind of workplace culture you expect everyone to help maintain. Explain the requirements for the kind of professional behavior and treatment of each other as fellow team members. Reinforcing these basic expectations periodically can go a long way toward minimizing incidences of significant conflict. Explain the chain of authority and the process for resolving conflicts.

2. Appreciate Facts and Opinions for What They Are.

Ask the parties to the conflict for clarity on their issues. Ask narrowly directed questions, to capture exactly the specific problem from the parties’ conflicting perspectives. If necessary, write down the specific problems they’ve stated. Ask question until you’ve accumulated all relevant information before you begin to engage with them on individual points of their respective sides of the issue. Then try to identify the common ground between them.

3. Face Conflict Forthrightly.

Be aware of points of potential conflict, and proactively position people, processes, shared workspaces and facilities, schedules, responsibilities, and opportunities to help prevent avoidable conflicts. Meanwhile, be prepared for conflict as a natural eventuality in any workplace. When conflict arises, don’t wait for it to go away on its own. Expect it to worsen if left unaddressed. Diffuse aggressive feelings, and guide parties to engage in calm and collaborative efforts to creatively resolve issues.

4. Maintain a Neutral Position.

Don’t point out blame in either party to the dispute. Reframe their complaints about each other as statements about the issue. Layout the facts of the potential consequences of the actual problem. Help the parties find some points of agreement. Then, help them picture what a positive outcome would look like — one that would offer both an improvement over the circumstances that has led to the problem.

5. Recognize Conflict as an Opportunity.

Facing conflict motivates creative problem solving, which, if well-directed, presents opposing parties and mediators with an opportunity for collaborating to find solutions to problems and better ways of doing things. Accept the challenge of managing each workplace conflict. Build a resource file of notes on conflict resolution thinking, strategies, methods, techniques, and tactics — and take time to review it before you go into a conflict resolution meeting.

6. Be Patient and Professional.

Be careful. Be patient. Choose words wisely. Set an example of the kind of professional maturity that you want the parties to the conflict to exhibit. Treat all parties with sensitivity. Avoid expressing ideas using words or phrases that can sound condescending or combative. Don’t get frustrated with the typical progress/regress/progress pattern that can occur during the process.

7. Stay Flexible and Open to Changing Your Mind.

Expect to need to make some adjustments and switch tactics, in response to how people are reacting to your way of handling the situation. Be agile. Stay open to changing your opinion. Weigh opposing positions and alternative solutions objectively. Guide the parties toward free, constructive dialogue. Ensure that everyone gets an equal chance to be heard and that all suggestions are given fair consideration.
8. Use Proven Techniques for Conflict Management.

First diffuse anger. Help the parties reposition their complaints and arguments, to save face. Then, describe the potential consequences of leaving the matter open and unresolved. Consider learning body language and eye movement interpretation, understand projecting, use both deescalating and escalating tactics, stage setting, visualization, and other advanced leadership communications techniques, as needed.
9. Strive to Find a Win-Win Solution.

Ensure that all parties have been equally heard. Seek to find a solution that’s best for everyone involved and for the larger team and the company. Consider individuals’ motivations in being a party to a workplace conflict. Identify a solution that brings both people closer to getting what they need and want in the situation. That will eliminate the obstacles to resolving the issue.

Difficulties in Resolving Conflict

Obstacles to resolving conflict include fearing conflict, insufficient empathy, impatience, inflexibility, over-sensitivity to reactions, poor interpersonal communication skills. These are the kinds of mindset problems that are likely to lead to the use of expressions that trigger parties to feel defensive and resistant.
There’s also the problem of the brain getting in the way during the conflict. Conflict is processed by the brain the same way as a physical threat. It causes a release of stress hormones. The brain’s reasoning functions become overwhelmed by its emotional response operations — impacting interpretations of verbal communications.

Succeeding in Managing Conflict in Your Workplace

Building a workplace culture of mutual respect and friendly communications is the best place to start in managing conflict. Success in maintaining a positive working atmosphere will take you far toward resolving conflicts that do arise more professionally and to the greater satisfaction of involved parties.
They’ll know what to expect going into the conflict resolution meeting, i.e., they’ll understand the boundaries on behavior and that they’ll be engaging in a discussion that is expected to be approached cooperatively, and productively. Emphasize that compromise is ideal, if a reasonable one can be found, and that meeting in the middle, working to understand the other person’s perspective is the core principle for the meeting. It’s the express evidence that parties are operating in good faith, and it’s the driver to discovery of common ground — which is where all the mutually satisfying solutions are to be discovered.

Finally, if your best efforts are unsuccessful in bringing people to a satisfactory resolution, you can expedite the conclusion of the issue by making a decision yourself on what the conclusion will be. Decide what is right to do, explain to help the parties understand your reasoning, and require all involved to move past it. Of course, you may have to deal with it more concretely, if issues persist.
In any case, you can lead your team knowing that by following the suggestions above, all outcomes of conflict are fully-considered, fair, and practical, seeking the best available solutions for employees and your business.


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