Making It Work: Strategies to Manage Workplace Conflict

No matter the size of your business or team, workplace conflict is bound to occur. Some of these situations may come from miscommunication, either between co-workers or from confusing top-down messaging; clashes between generations and different approaches to work; inadequate access to resources; or when an initiative or other project falls short and there are disputes concerning who is accountable for what happened.

However, managers and employees alike can learn conflict-resolution skills that bring people closer together, strengthening the overall business. Here are a few strategies to employ in your workplace.

Get the Timing Right

Much depends upon the circumstances, but it’s safe to say that managers should always appreciate the importance of knowing when to intervene. For example, if two or more employees are disputing the right approach to a problem and things get heated, it’s wise to get involved right away. Don’t let operational or personality problems fester, if you can help it.

For conflict on a larger scale, or a scenario that involves one person’s accusations against another, it’s probably best to gather all the information you can before intervening. Resolution is generally most successful when the person responsible for mediating conflict has a thorough understanding of the situation.

Resist Focusing on the Past

When coping with an employee’s recurring negative behavior, refrain from focusing too much on prior situations. Generally speaking, this will only add to a feeling of disharmony that already exists.

A more effective approach involves describing (at most) one or two examples to show how certain patterns contribute to conflict. Then, use a collaborative approach to find a solution that sidesteps unnecessary blame and points toward a positive outcome.

Reframe the Issue

Addressing an issue objectively is a key element in successful conflict resolution. If a dispute arises between two individuals, find ways to reframe the problem away from these individuals and on the specific conflict itself.

This way, notes Fast Company, “it stops being a win-or-lose situation and becomes a shared battle.” No one is pitted against the other, and no one is villainized. Once the issue is reframed this way, it may be possible to seek ideas for resolution from the entire team.

Leave Ego Out of It

Whatever the issue, experts advise leaders not to take it personally (even if your actions are related to the conflict). Forbes encourages leaders to “check your insecurities at the door.” When someone comes to you with a problem, “it’s your responsibility to listen to them openly and either diffuse their concerns or make some changes.”

Every incident of conflict carries a lesson to be learned. That lesson may revolve around discovering new ways of addressing conflict the next time it occurs or, perhaps, illustrates some shortcoming in company culture that the team can help resolve. It may also shed light on broader challenges faced by your business and guide the way to a companywide solution that benefits everyone.

Resolving Conflict in the Future

Being able to effectively resolve conflicts can be a powerful factor in employee retention. Everything depends on how you, as the business owner or manager, handle the issue. The result can be a valuable opportunity to strengthen the bond between team members or find a fresh approach to solving difficult problems.

Lee Polevoi
Lee Polevoi
Lee Polevoi is a veteran freelance business writer specializing in exploring the opportunities and challenges facing small businesses in the U.S. today. A former senior writer for Vistage International (a global membership organization of CEOs), Lee regularly produces articles, white papers, blog posts and more for the diverse small business audience.

See all posts by Lee Polevoi
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