Conflict Management: 6 Examples for the Workplace

With different personalities, goals and working styles, workplace disagreements are inevitable. When handled properly, however, they can lead to innovative solutions and more cohesive relationships.
 
Learning how to manage conflict in the workplace can help business owners build better teams and healthier workplace culture. Learn about some common examples of conflict in the workplace and effective management techniques that will help managers handle them effectively.
 
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What is conflict management?

Workers spend nearly three hours a week dealing with conflict, and close to half of all employees have either seen or experienced workplace conflict. One of the best ways for companies to harness it is with effective conflict management.
 

Conflict management refers to the proactive practice of conflict resolution so that it doesn’t escalate into disagreements. The objective is for differing sides to collaborate and overcome the challenge in a way that each feels heard and understood. Savvy managers can learn to perfect resolution skills and strategies to get the most value out of conflict.
 

How to manage conflicts at work

Here are some tips to help you manage conflict:
 

  • Take immediate action: Resolving conflicts as soon as possible minimizes tension and keeps other employees out of disagreement. Many miscommunications are resolved with simple, transparent discussion.
  • Frame the discussion positively: Referring to meetings as “conflict resolution” can create unnecessary tension. Instead, frame the meeting with employees as a “brainstorming” discussion or a “chat session” or simply say you’d like to get opinions on the matter. 
  • Focus on the issue, not the person: Encourage parties to avoid personal attacks and focus on problem-solving. 
  • Practice active listening: Active listening is about listening to each speaker and trying to understand their message without interruption. The best way to accomplish this is to ask open-ended questions that encourage parties to speak instead of asking questions that yield “yes” or “no.” If the discussion becomes heated, ask each party to clarify how work processes were impacted by the situation or what they need to do their jobs. Restate what you heard in your own words. Then, ask for opinions and encourage consensus on a solution.

6 examples of effective conflict management

The following are some examples of workplace conflicts and steps a manager might take to resolve them.
 

Task-based conflicts

This is the type of situation that arises on teams when someone comes late with information another team member needs to complete their part of the project. When this is a frequent occurrence, the team member who is being held up can feel slighted and a situation may arise.
 

One way to resolve this issue is to ensure that both parties are aware of how they are accountable for their roles and responsibilities. Clarify the processes they are using to accomplish their tasks to better understand how workflows can achieve better synchronization.
 

Conflict with manager’s leadership style 

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, managers and their employees can clash. For example, a manager with a type-A personality sets ambitious goals for an employee, inadvertently overwhelming them. Or a manager has a hands-off management style, and an employee wants more guidance.
 

Establish guidelines clearly and ensure parties understand that the purpose of the discussion is to work together toward concrete solutions.
 

For example, if an employee is overwhelmed by their duties, ask them to prepare a spreadsheet of tasks with estimated deadlines. Managers may want to meet with the employee in weekly 1-on-1 meetings. That way, both the direct report and the manager can review the workload together and work on solutions for streamlining specific duties or distributing them to other teammates. The important thing is to keep discussions ongoing and open, so employees and managers learn better skills for working together.
 

Read more: 8 Types of Management Styles

 

Conflicts with customers

Customer relationships are crucial, so the first step is to offer the customer the opportunity to express how they feel and use empathetic statements to show you care. Always take responsibility for any mistakes that the company has made and ask the customer how you can resolve the issue for them. Managers who can offer refunds, discounts or other gestures can mitigate frustrations. However, it’s best to know beforehand how much you’re willing to pay to keep the customer happy.
 

Related: 7 of the Most Important Characteristics of Great Customer Service

 

Performance review conflicts

Work one-on-one with the employee to create a plan with specific action steps and deadlines to improve their performance. Encourage employees to voice their opinions when setting goals to increase their commitment.
 

Clash of personalities

Everyone is different, and there are times when it is particularly hard to work with people who have difficult or distasteful personalities. In most situations, one inappropriate or difficult incident isn’t the sum of a person and requires empathy and sympathy. When personalities clash in the workplace, one of the best conflict resolution moves is to sort out and handle the situation quickly and informally before it festers.
 

Discrimination 

Discrimination is one of the more serious work conflict examples. In almost all cases, human resources need to enter the situation. In 2020, 67,448 workplace discrimination charges were filed in the United States. Once there is a claim, one of the first steps managers and the company as a whole need to take is to explicitly emphasize the value of diversity and tolerance. Next, managers need to listen closely to the aggrieved employee without interruption or conflation, open a discussion about the issue and set measurable goals to eradicate the behavior.
 

Related: Diversity in the Workplace (With Sample Survey)

 

Frequently asked questions about conflict management

 

What are conflict resolution skills?

Some essential conflict resolution skills include:
 

  • Communication: Clear and accurate communication is essential to making parties feel heard. It also helps to ensure all parties know exactly what is expected going forward. 
  • Emotional intelligence: Understanding one’s feelings and the feelings of others is highly important to averting, minimizing and resolving conflicts.
  • Empathy: Seeing another person’s point of view can reduce resentments and stubbornness and increase innovation and learning. 
  • Problem-solving: Good problem-solvers listen and find solutions that help differing parties agree and cooperate. 

How do you improve conflict management skills?

Here are some tips to improve your conflict management skills:
 

  • Practice active listening. Listen without interrupting and ask thoughtful, open-ended questions to better understand the other person’s point of view.
  • Make eye contact when you’re speaking. Be clear and concise when writing or speaking. Be aware of your body language and pay attention to the body language of others. You may even want to consider asking a trusted colleague for honest feedback to find out if there are any areas you could improve your communication habits.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Controlling your emotional response and maintaining a positive attitude can help you keep discussions calm and productive.
  • Work toward the outcome. Conflict is only resolved when parties emerge with an agreed-upon plan and set of actions. Keep discussions leaning toward achieving this goal and write action steps. Ensure all parties agree and understand how to move forward.
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