Handling Conflict in the Workplace

In many offices today, the term manager has become synonymous with term mediator. Conflict management is one of the most prominent, and often most challenging, parts of leadership in today’s workforce. However, no matter how hard managers try to keep a conflict-free work environment, employee conflict is almost always inevitable.

Conflict can grow from a number of issues. Perceptions of favoritism, pride, compensation discrepancies or even personal problems. The reasons for conflict are so varied and unpredictable, that managers need to expect that conflict is going to arise. In some situations, this conflict can be very emotional in nature, in others it can be as simple as a miscommunication. In either situation, a small problem can easily grow into a large issue.

Conflict is simply part of management. There is no point in fearing it or trying to hide from it, it is a manager’s job to face conflict head on, not to avoid it. While there aren’t many things that managers can do in order to prevent conflict from ever arising, there are ways that they can easily handle conflict in the workplace when it does come up. If ignored, unresolved conflict will only grow and fester and become far more detrimental than it needs to be. However, considering all of the different ways in which conflict can manifest in a professional setting, handling conflict can often be challenging, unpredictable and at times overwhelming.

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While there is no rulebook on how to handle every office conflict, there are a few pillars of conflict resolution that every manager should be aware of. These pillars of resolution can help any manager navigate their conflict to the best of their ability to ensure that these issues aren’t just handled properly, but that they don’t impose any threats to the wellbeing of their office.

These pillars can build a strong foundation towards conflict resolution and help managers of all types handle their office conflicts in an appropriate manner and a manner that will leave all parties as satisfied as possible.

Defining the Conflict

Before any workplace conflict can be managed, it is important that the actual problem is defined and addressed head on. One of the things that makes conflict management so difficult is that many times when conflict arises and starts to rear its head, it can grow and morph into a very serious and complex problem. Many times, it gets to a point where both parties don’t know or don’t remember how the issue started.

Conflict can dredge up a lot of emotions and make it difficult to remember where it initially started. This is why one of the most important steps in effective conflict management is defining the problem. Once the actual issue has been defined, and both parties are in agreement of what the actual issue is, a manager can truly step in to mediate and help create a path towards resolution.

Fostering Communication

Communication is such an important component of conflict resolution, and is even one of the main reasons why conflict is born in the first place. If all parties, including the manager cannot be open and communicate clearly, then the conflict will never get resolved. Communicating clearly can help all individuals understand what the issue is, why it started and where all sides are coming from.

Setting up this foundation of communication will only open up the doors for the future and help ensure that both sides of the conflict can continue to communicate as they strive to reach a resolution.

Controlling Emotion

Virtually every conflict has some type of emotional component to it, whether it is clear from the beginning or not. As conflict continues to arise, it can also bring up more emotions and only add complexity to the situation. Sides in a conflict can feel angry, hurt or saddened during conflict and eventually become defensive as the situation escalates.

As a mediator to conflict, or even as a party in a conflict, it is essential to remove emotion from the equation as much as possible. Emotions can cloud judgement, they can make it hard to listen and they can make it even more difficult to communicate. As both parties discuss the issue and a possible resolution, it is essential that emotional terms and feelings are left out for the time being until the problem can be resolved.

Defining Acceptable Behavior

One of the best things that managers can do to foster better conflict resolution in their workplace is to define what acceptable behavior is. All parties need to understand how conflicts should be and expected to be handled in the workplace.

It is important that all team members understand that conflict is OK, and that they will not be punished for having conflict, but that they still need to act in an appropriate manner when handling this conflict. Conflict resolution, especially one that includes a group of individuals, needs to be structured and respectful, it should not just be a free-for-all. Acceptable behavior is that which includes polite communication and an emphasis not only on what is, but how it is said. Poor behavior during conflict resolution can negatively impact the entire office. There should be no yelling, no personal attacks and no criticism.

Understanding the Other Party’s Motives

If one party involved in a conflict can understand the motives of the other party, it can only help all involved reach an amicable solution. All participants in this conflict need to understand the other side of the issue and understand the other individual’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).

When one side of a conflict understands the other side’s objective it can be easy to make sacrifices or compromises to make sure that all involved are satisfied. What motivates the other side? What is in it for them? How can a resolution provide them with some of what they want? Answering these questions is paramount to coming up with a reasonable solution. Approaching a conflict from the perspective of trying to help others achieve their goals will only expedite the resolution process and help all participants find a resolution they can agree on.

Being able to swiftly handle conflict when it arises is one of the keys to ensuring that the work environment remains positive and that the workplace can stay as efficient and productive as possible. Applying these pillars of resolution to work conflicts is one of the most efficient ways for managers to keep the negative impacts of conflict at bay, while promoting a more collaborative and successful work environment.

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Key Points

  • Conflict management is one of the most prominent, and often most challenging, aspects of leadership.
  • It is a manager’s job to face conflict head on, not to avoid it.
  • Before any workplace conflict can be managed, it is important that the underlying problem is defined.
  • Communicating clearly can help all individuals understand what the issue is, why it started and where all sides are coming from.
  • Emotions can cloud judgement, they can make it hard to listen and they can make it even more difficult to communicate.
  • All parties need to understand how conflicts should be and expected to be handled in the workplace.
  • Approaching a conflict from the perspective of trying to help others achieve their goals will expedite the resolution process and help all participants find a resolution they can agree on.

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