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How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

Black man talking to his colleagues

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can minimize workplace conflict when you have the right habits and practice cooperative problem-solving. Focusing on solutions instead of blame will help minimize feelings of guilt or shame, which often lead to conflict.

Teams with a lot of diversity are more adaptable and creative at solving problems. These differences can sometimes also lead to conflict. The value of diversity far outweighs any potential for conflict, so it’s important to know how to resolve issues so everyone feels respected.

Whether in romantic relationships, friendships, our homes, or our offices, conflict tends to arise as diverse individuals live and interact with one another in close quarters. In the workplace, calmly and effectively working through conflict can seem especially intimidating. However, there are constructive strategies for managing conflict even in the most demanding of circumstances.

Keep reading to find out how you can turn workplace conflicts to the advantage of you and your entire team.

What is Conflict Management?

The more people you work with, the more often disagreements will emerge, especially if there are a lot of diverse opinions. Having a lot of diversity is good for problem-solving and creative solutions. Sometimes, people from different backgrounds can have disagreements about how to act properly. When conflicts emerge, it’s necessary to diffuse the tension and figure out how to help people feel better about each other.

Some managers think conflict management is about stopping disagreements. The best managers know that conflict management starts before problems occur. Arguments and disagreements can weaken or break important connections between people. Conflict management is about repairing those connections and creating healthy habits so you can disagree without creating bad feelings or breaking important connections with other people. Paying close attention to decreased productivity, staff complaints, and shifts in how coworkers interact can help you notice problems early.

argument taking place at work amongst colleagues
Some conflicts are a result of organizational structure (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Some conflicts are a result of organizational structure. When coworkers have conflicting goals they can sometimes find it hard to agree. Having too many managers can also lead to conflict. Team strain can sometimes be resolved by minor organizational changes.

Conflicting goals are often easy to resolve. For example, one person may be responsible for quality control, and another is responsible for productivity. As productivity increases, quality can sometimes go down. This situation can lead to conflict. Having a third party coordinate can help, or you can include both metrics in the performance reviews for both people. When a dispute arises, it’s first a good idea to examine your organizational structure for solutions.

Workplace conflict can be minimized by creating a culture of empowerment and professionalism. When people treat each other with respect and have the tools necessary to do their job, conflicts are minimized.

Managing Workplace Conflict

Open lines of communication

The foundation of managing workplace conflict starts with ensuring everyone knows what is expected of them and what kinds of behavior are acceptable. Keeping these lines of communication open is indispensable if you want to keep conflict under control.

Address conflict immediately

Many managers wait to give feedback during yearly performance appraisals. While for some teams this is adequate, there is a better way. Addressing conflicts proactively as they occur helps minimize bad outcomes and improves harmony. Creating a positive environment that encourages effective workplace communication can help you avoid problems in the first place.

Practice active listening

Practice your active listening skills on your team as often as possible. The best managers are often really good listeners. When people feel heard, they are a lot more likely to reciprocate and listen to you. They may even ask you for help on areas where they need improvement. Active listening is an essential part of workplace conflict management.

African mentor gives valuable advice to staff members during workshop training.
Active listening is an essential part of workplace conflict management (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Give regular feedback

Getting regular feedback from team members and managers is crucial to the success of your team. Encourage others to open up about their projects and the potential problems they see brewing. The earlier you know, the easier it is to implement a fix and keep workplace morale high. Team members who feel connected and valued develop amazing conflict-resolution skills.

How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

When conflict emerges and you find you have to criticize or reprimand people, I recommend you try the sandwich technique. When you slide a piece of criticism in between two compliments, it can be a lot easier to take. These compliments have to be sincere, or they will backfire. I suggest you practice giving other people meaningful compliments as often as possible.

Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It | CrisMarie Campbell & Susan Clarke | TEDxWhitefish

When you do criticize, a tactful approach is best. Instead of telling someone they were wrong, show them how to do it right. Showing is much more important than telling. Oftentimes, people are only acting wrong because they don’t know how to perform the task properly. A focus on correct behavior instead of bad behavior goes a long way toward resolving conflict in the workplace.

Cultivate and encourage a professional atmosphere. Set a good example by always saying please and thank you, and look for little ways to show your team they are appreciated.  The more you practice, the easier it gets, and the better you will perform.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Although many of us avoid confrontation at all costs, proactively dealing with conflict and communicating directly is the most effective way to resolve conflicts. Books like Just Listen, by Mark Goulsten andThe Five Dysfunctions of a Teamby Patrick Lincioni are great resources. They can help you create a more positive and open environment and minimize conflict. Larry Sharpe is an expert at conflict resolution and a constant source of inspiration and energy.

How much room is there for improvement in your workspace? I recommend you pick up one of these books or find another area where you know you can make progress. Reach out to your own managers and your team and let them know what you are doing and why. You may be surprised at how many people will want to help and be cooperative.

Spend 30 days on improvements and then take some time to pause and reflect. You may be surprised at the results!