Conflict is a multi-layered experience. As much as it’s about the disagreement at hand, it’s also about the underlying interpersonal relationships among people at work. And those relationships can bend or break: the secret to managing workplace conflict is encouraging the former and avoiding the latter.
As a leader, you are in a unique position. You need to manage the conflict among employees and also manage your own reaction to it. Keep these ideas in mind the next time you need to manage conflict.
Deal with It Promptly
The longer you let conflict fester, the more likely it is to spread beyond the original pair who disagreed. Because when given the opportunity, those disagreeing coworkers will tell colleagues of their frustrations and people will start to take sides which just makes everything worse. Yes, no one enjoys managing conflict. But you will have a much easier time helping it to a resolution if you face it head-on.
If you simply impose your will on the situation, you may squash the conflict for a short time but the underlying disagreement remains unresolved. By including the conflicting parties on the resolution, you have the chance to encourage genuine buy-in with the solution because people feel there’s something in it for them.
Start with identifying the issue in the most objective way possible. Talk to the people involved one-on-one and ask them to describe the problem. This is where your own self-management skills are paramount – you need to be seen as a truly neutral party to negotiate the best solution.
Use Conflict Resolution Strategies
People have disagreements all the time but when they’re not feeling heard or respected, that drives on-going conflict. When resolving conflict at work, acknowledge the feelings, frustrations, and experiences of the person who’s telling you about their problem; remember, this is acknowledgment, not agreement. You’re validating their experience not telling them they’re the one who’s right.
Here are some conflict resolution ideas:
- Take notes and read your notes back to the person to ensure you truly understand the nature of the conflict.
- Invite all parties to sit down with you to discuss the problem.
- Lay out the ground rules to keep things civil and objective.
- Point out areas where all sides have something in common.
- Ask those involved for solutions.
- Look for ways to avoid win/lose solutions and strive for collaboration or compromise.
- Encourage both sides to commit to the agreed-upon solution.
More Tips for Long-Term Success
Sometimes, one conversation about resolving conflict isn’t enough. Consider using a framework of coaching sessions, written agreements, and follow up meetings to assess ongoing resolution to the problem.
Solutions to some problems may need to be re-visited and the solutions re-negotiated if the first attempt at solving a problem doesn’t work well. Conflict resolution can be a process and not a goal.
Resolving conflict at work is never easy but being proactive about it is important. It prevents a small conflict from erupting beyond the two or three people who disagree.
As the person tasked with guiding conflict resolution, do your best to stay above the fray and keep conversations about the problem objective. Avoid making – and don’t allow – personal attacks. Everyone involved has a stake in the resolution so don’t be afraid of asking those in conflict for ideas. Use tools like coaching and follow-up meetings to ensure the chosen solution is working and continues to work satisfactorily.