What is conflict management?
Most of your employees have likely experienced some form of workplace conflict during their careers. As a business owner or employer, you might think of conflict as an obstacle to avoid at all costs. But in most cases, such conflict can be harnessed and used to facilitate growth among team members.
This is where conflict management comes in. Conflict management refers to the practice of resolving minor conflicts proactively to avoid damaging interpersonal relationships. The objective is for both sides of the conflict to collaborate and overcome the challenge in a way that each feels heard and understood. As a leader, you’ll facilitate the resolution to turn it into a learning experience for those involved.
How to manage conflict in the workplace
So how do you resolve workplace conflict? It may seem like a daunting task, but it will get easier with real-world application. To get you started, here are six steps to follow that will mitigate conflict within your team.
1. Find the source of conflict
To resolve any conflict, you’ll start by identifying its source. Doing so will give you a clear picture of the situation and the factors that escalated it into a full-blown conflict. Plus, settling on the head ensures both sides begin the resolution process at the same starting point.
To find the conflict’s source, ask questions and let both parties respond. The goal here is to gather as much information about each side’s viewpoint as possible. By the end of this step, you’ll have developed a foundation of mutual understanding on which to build the rest of your conflict resolution.
2. Look for a safe space
Before you delve into any actual resolution, it’s important to set the stage for success. Bring both parties to a safe space where the issue can be discussed privately. Avoid choosing a place that favors one side over the other (such as the office of either one) to ensure neither one is given an unfair advantage. Finding a neutral ground will allow all parties to participate in a constructive conversation.
3. Practice active listening
Now that you’ve found the right environment, allow each side to say their peace about the issue at hand. Give each side equal time to share their perspective without favoring one over the other. Stay positive yet assertive during this conversation to encourage honesty and establish yourself as a resolving force. Listening actively at this point will ensure both sides feel heard.
4. Conduct your own investigation
Once you’ve heard the perspective of both sides, take some time to investigate the situation on your own. Avoid coming to premature judgments based on the initial conversation, and instead, dig deeper into the issue to build an unbiased account. Feel free to have one-on-one conversations with each party at this point to ensure you understand everyone’s perspective. Be mindful of any underlying prejudices that may be driving the conflict.
5. Determine a common goal
Upon conducting your own investigation, it’s time to determine a common goal. This goal will vary depending on the conflict, though it should establish a common ground that can then be used to find an ultimate solution. Sit down with both sides and discuss this objective; brainstorm solutions and be open to suggestions.
6. Settle on a solution
Turn your common goal into a solution that will resolve the conflict for good. This solution should satisfy the basic issue at hand without favoring one side too much over the other. When settling on a solution, make sure each party understands the role they’ll play in the resolution, and do your best to address the root cause of the issue to keep it from presenting itself again.
Conflict management in the workplace: some tips
Conflict resolution in the workplace can be difficult to master, especially in complex disagreements. Here are some tips that will make the process easier to handle.
Take immediate action
When a conflict is left unaddressed, it has the potential to spiral out of control. Tensions increase and more employees may get dragged into the drama. Avoid these effects by taking immediate action to manage conflicts as soon as they arise. In many cases, you’ll find that simple misunderstandings are easily resolved with a quick, honest discussion.
Keep things positive
Avoid explicitly stating that your goal is to “resolve conflict,” as this can be divisive and pit one side against the other. Instead, let your employees know that you’d simply like to get their opinions on the matter or have a brainstorming session.
Focus on the issue, not the person
When resolving conflict in the workplace, the employee is not the enemy. Personal attacks are ineffective and toxic, so keep them out of your discussion. Instead, focus on problem-solving and collaborative brainstorming.
3 workplace conflict examples
Understanding the steps toward conflict resolution is different from actually applying them. Here are three examples of common conflicts and what to do when you encounter them.
1. Task-based conflicts
Task-based conflicts generally arise when a team member is behind on their information or fails to adequately meet their designated responsibilities. Personal attacks may surface, leaving one person feeling singled out and slighted.
Resolve this workplace conflict by making sure all parties are aware of their roles and responsibilities. Clarify their processes and be sure to focus on the problem, not the employee.
2. Conflict with the manager’s leadership style
Despite the best of intentions, managers and their employees may clash over leadership methods. An employee may feel overwhelmed by their type-A manager’s personality, or they may yearn for guidance from a more hands-off type.
When this happens, establish guidelines clearly and ensure parties understand that the purpose of any discussion is to work together toward concrete solutions. Give the overwhelmed employee space to find their own rhythm, and keep the lines of communication open for those who need a little more guidance.
3. Conflicts with customers
Good customer relations are essential for any successful business. Allow the customer to express how they feel and take responsibility for the company’s mistakes. Utilize emphatic statements throughout the discussion to show your care and understanding. However, know in advance just how far you’ll go to keep the customer happy.
FAQs about conflict management
Want to know more about conflict management? Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions.
What makes a skilled conflict manager?
Good conflict management skills build on the qualities that make any good leader. Some essential skills include:
- Communication. Clear and accurate communication makes parties feel heard and makes expectations clear moving forward.
- Emotional intelligence. Understanding one’s feelings and the feelings of others can speed up the conflict-resolution process.
- Empathy. Seeing another person’s point of view can make employees feel heard and cultivate a healthy workplace culture.
How do you choose a conflict management style?
The right conflict management style depends on the type of leader you are. Accommodating leaders will do their best to satisfy all parties, while collaborative ones will emphasize the group brainstorming process. Choose a style that fits your values, but be open to style shifts if the situation calls for it.
How do you prevent conflict in the workplace?
While it’s impossible to prevent all forms of conflict, you can minimize disagreements by making expectations clear, promoting open communication and finding solutions that address the root source of a problem.