Workplace conflict is one of the most common issues employees have to face when assuming management roles. It can arise between employees of the same seniority or with junior and senior staff alike.
Common workplace conflict scenarios include:
- A coworker taking credit for someone else’s idea or achievement.
- A serious mistake that can threaten the team’s progress.
- Unmet deadlines or project objectives — especially when these are client-facing.
- Personal differences manifested through gossip or arguments.
Regardless of the parties involved, you need to understand the root causes and the perspectives of each party involved. Likewise, it’s vital to address the conflict with a solution-oriented attitude. Only then will everyone be able to find common grounds and move forward with a positive resolution.
These are the basic conflict resolution strategies any manager needs to prevent conflict from escalating in the workplace.
4 Conflict Resolution Strategies for Managers and Leaders
Address Conflict When It Arises
In many cases, employees remain silent when they feel unsafe speaking up. It’s your role as a leader to provide a safe space for them to voice their concerns or discomfort. This may be the HR office or their immediate higher-up, depending on the issue.
When conflict arises in the workplace, you need to decide whether to address it or let it pass. The choice will come depending on its severity and what areas the conflict relates to.
Smaller conflicts, like coworkers eventually arguing over snacks, are likely something that can be ignored. However, discrimination, harassment and other forms of misconduct need to be addressed immediately.
Take Time To Calm Down
The stress of workplace conflict added to daily life can result in emotionally charged situations where people react less than ideally.
If possible, you want the parties involved in a conflict to take a step back and calm down before addressing it. Otherwise, you risk these pent-up emotions making the conflict more serious. Even a few minutes to breathe or go for a walk around the building can do wonders to help your employees calm down before facing the problem.
Define the Conflict
Once your employees are calmer, it’s time to clarify the issue. Active listening is an essential skill to develop as a manager. In the case of workplace conflict, consider both sides’ versions and explore how each individual is perceiving the situation. You may be surprised at how different their perspectives are.
Ask questions in terms of what needs aren’t being met or what an appropriate solution could be to establish a foundation before looking for a solution. And remember that your role in this process is to be unbiased — you’re not involved choose sides or put someone’s needs over another’s.
It’s important to focus on the present conflict and address it without airing previous, irrelevant issues. However, it’s common to find that previous issues between employees can escalate conflicts, so if there are old resentments or a history of issues, these will need to be addressed at some point in order to heal the relationship.
This way, solutions are targeted and truly helpful in achieving resolution.
Negotiate Potential Solutions
Once everyone has aired their grievances, it’s time to brainstorm ways to move forward. As a neutral third party, you could propose solutions based on the facts. But the people involved in the conflict deserve the opportunity to propose their own solutions.
The objective is to find a solution that aligns with both parties’ interests instead of benefitting one over the other. Start by finding their commonalities and focus on those to build a plan that allows them to leave the conflict behind.
The plan must include acknowledging the issue and taking accountability where needed. Beyond accountability, there must be clear actions to redeem the wrongdoing and a path forward that prevents the issue from happening again.
Active Communication Can Prevent Conflict From Arising or Escalating
In most cases, conflict arises when there’s a lack of communication. And in all cases, communication is essential to achieve a positive outcome after conflict. It’s common for relationships to suffer or not return to normal after workplace conflict, but you want anyone involved to at least be able to be civil without feeling unsafe or unappreciated.
Open lines of communication enable coworkers to heal and move forward to purposeful collaboration. And as a leader, it’s your responsibility to create the safe spaces required to have honest, productive conversations where your staff feels heard and understood.
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