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How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace [with Examples]

Managing conflict in the workplace is a critical skill: conflicts arise for various reasons, whether it’s due to different perspectives, communication breakdowns, or issues with specific tasks. In this article, you will learn some practical techniques to manage conflict in the workplace, step-by-step:

Step 1: Identify the Source of Conflict

Before you can effectively manage conflict in the workplace, it’s important to identify the root cause of the issue. Start by observing the situation and gathering information from those involved, as well as any witnesses. Ask open-ended questions that encourage team members to share their perspectives, and listen actively to each person’s input.

By understanding the different viewpoints of the individuals involved, you’ll be better prepared to pinpoint the main source of conflict. Some common sources of workplace conflict include miscommunication, differences in values or priorities, resource allocation, and unmet expectations. Keep in mind that there may be multiple factors contributing to the conflict, or even underlying issues that need to be addressed.

Once you have identified the root cause(s), consider creating a list of the primary contributing factors to help guide your approach in resolving the issue. This list can help keep the discussion focused on the problem at hand, rather than on the individuals involved:

  • Miscommunication
  • Differences in values or priorities
  • Resource allocation
  • Unmet expectations

The goal is to work together with your team to address the conflict and find a solution that benefits everyone involved, and by first identifying the source of the conflict, you’re taking a critical step toward restoring harmony in the workplace.

Step 2: Determine Your Conflict Management Style

There are 5 conflict management styles:

Competing Style

The competing style is characterized by high assertiveness and low cooperativeness. You may use this style when you prioritize your own needs and desires over others. This style can be beneficial in situations where quick decisions are necessary or in cases when standing up for your own rights is essential. However, be cautious, as overuse of this style may lead to strained relationships and conflict escalation.

Accommodating Style

When using the accommodating style, you prioritize cooperation over assertiveness and tend to sacrifice your own needs and desires to satisfy others. This approach can work well when building relationships or maintaining harmony is more important than achieving personal goals. However, overusing this style may result in feelings of resentment and undermining your self-esteem.

Avoiding Style

The avoiding style is characterized by low assertiveness and low cooperativeness. You may use this style when you prefer to sidestep conflict or postpone addressing issues. Avoiding can be useful when tensions are high and taking time can result in more productive conversations. However, consistently avoiding conflicts may lead to unresolved issues and mounting frustration.

Compromising Style

This approach involves reaching a solution that partially satisfies both parties. Compromising is valuable when it’s essential to achieve a quick resolution or when both parties have equal power. However, reliance on this style may lead to suboptimal outcomes if parties give up important elements for the sake of agreement.

Collaborating Style

While compromising style is focused on a quick resolution, collaborating style takes more time. In this approach, you work jointly with the other party to find a solution that satisfies both sets of needs and desires. Collaborating is ideal when mutual commitment to a solution is critical, and both parties have complementary skills and resources. However, this style may not be practical in time-sensitive situations or when complete consensus is unnecessary.

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Each style has its own advantages and disadvantages (so consider them contextually), for example:

Style Pros Cons
Competing Quick decision-making, assertiveness May result in damaged relationships
Collaborating Leads to creative problem-solving, shared responsibility Can be time-consuming, not suitable for all situations
Avoiding Reduced stress from confrontation, tempers emotions Issues go unresolved, potential for future escalation
Accommodating Strengthens relationships, displays empathy Might not get own needs met, can enable negative behavior
Compromising Usually fair, quick resolution May not meet all needs, can stifle creativity

Step 3: Adapt Your Style for Effective Conflict Management

Recognize that each conflict management style has its own advantages and disadvantages, and no single style is superior in every situation. Consider the context, priorities, and the people involved; then choose the most appropriate approach:

  • Collaborator: Works well when all parties’ interests are important, and a creative solution is needed.
  • Avoider: Applicable when the issue is minor, or when you need some time to think things through.
  • Competitor: Effective when a quick, decisive action is essential, or when protecting your own interests is important.
  • Accommodator: Suitable when preserving the relationship is more important than resolving the issue itself.
  • Compromiser: Useful when finding a middle ground is the best approach, and both parties are willing to give up something in return.

Step 4: Use Effective Communication Techniques

Clarify the Situation

Seeking clarification helps ensure that you fully understand the situation and prevents misunderstandings. To seek clarification:

  • Ask for more information or examples if something is unclear
  • Rephrase statements in your own words and ask the speaker to confirm their accuracy
  • Request that complex ideas be broken down into simpler terms.
Ask Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions encourage meaningful discussion and can help uncover the root cause of a conflict. Instead of asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” use open-ended questions like:

  • “What factors contributed to this situation?”
  • “How did you feel when this happened?”
  • “What would be your ideal outcome in resolving this issue?”
Practice Active Listening
  • Maintain eye contact and give your full attention to the speaker
  • Refrain from interrupting or formulating your response while they’re speaking
  • Summarize and reflect back the speaker’s main points to ensure you understood them correctly.
Show Empathy
  • Try to understand their thoughts and emotions
  • Validate their feelings by expressing your understanding
  • Be supportive and offer assistance when appropriate.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to understand their feelings and emotions. Acknowledge their point of view, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. By displaying empathy, you enable a more open and honest conversation that promotes problem-solving and fosters mutual respect.

Propose Solutions
  • Focus on the problem rather than the personalities involved
  • Propose solutions and keep the conversation factual and short
  • Try to be as kind as possible when speaking.

Examples of Conflict Resolution

Example 1

One approach to managing conflict is through collaborative problem-solving, which encourages team members to work together towards a mutually beneficial solution.

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For example, imagine two employees who have opposing views on how to handle a customer service issue. You, as their manager, can step in and encourage open communication between them. Ask each employee to voice their concerns and possible solutions. Once all ideas have been shared, work on finding a compromise both employees can agree on. This collaborative approach not only resolves the conflict but also fosters a healthy environment for future problem-solving and teamwork.

Example 2

Another example of collaborative approach:

Consider a situation where a leader, in their first management position, oversees a team and notices a team member, Diana, with a low customer satisfaction score.

Rather than avoiding the issue or placing blame, the leader should initiate a constructive conversation with Diana. You can start by acknowledging her strengths, then explain the concerns regarding her customer satisfaction score, and invite her to share her perspective on the matter.

After understanding Diana’s viewpoint, you can work together to identify strategies for improvement, such as additional training, peer support, or regular check-ins. By addressing the issue directly, you not only resolve the conflict, but also provide crucial support and guidance for your team member’s growth and success.

Example 3

Imagine you and your manager disagree on the recommendation for a client. In this situation, you might want to adapt a collaborative or accommodating approach. Start by finding a 30-minute block for the two of you to talk through the recommendation and try to reach a common ground. You can also explore the reasons behind each other’s perspectives and potential compromises.

Example 4

Another example is when your team needs to present a unified front during negotiations with another group. It’s vital to negotiate differences and conflicts behind the scenes to avoid showing signs of weakness or disarray in front of the other team. Apply a collaborative negotiation style to foster productive long-term relationships and manage conflicts effectively.

Example 5

Conflicts in personal relationships at work can be emotionally charged and damage productivity. Always consider the value of the relationship and the potential consequences of the conflict. For example, when discussing non-work related topics it is often more productive to choose a conflict management style that protects the relationship, such as accommodating or avoiding.

As you practice applying different conflict management styles in real-life scenarios, you will become better equipped to handle various conflicts and improve your relationships both personally and professionally.

How to Prevent Conflict In the Workplace

Creating a positive environment is crucial for managing and preventing conflict in your workplace. By fostering a supportive and collaborative atmosphere, you can reduce tensions and promote healthy communication among your team members. Here are a few strategies to help create a positive work environment:

Encouraging Collaboration

In order to promote a sense of unity and cooperation among your team, consider implementing strategies to encourage collaboration. This could include:

  • Organizing regular team-building activities
  • Hosting brainstorming sessions to facilitate the sharing of ideas
  • Encouraging open communication, where all opinions are welcome and respected

Building Trust

Trust is a cornerstone of a positive work environment. Here are some ways you can build trust within your team:

  • Be transparent and open about company decisions, goals, and challenges
  • Encourage honesty and provide a safe space for employees to voice their concerns
  • Recognize and appreciate team members’ achievements and contributions
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As trust builds among team members, they are more likely to approach conflicts with a problem-solving mindset and work to find mutually beneficial resolutions.

Learn more: How to Build Trust in the Workplace [18 Effective Solutions]

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is key in understanding and managing feelings, both within ourselves and among others. Consider offering resources and training for your employees to develop their emotional intelligence. This can include:

  • Workshops or seminars on emotional intelligence and communication skills
  • Access to resources like articles and books focused on self-awareness and empathy
  • Encouraging team members to actively practice and improve their emotional intelligence skills in their daily interactions

With increased emotional intelligence, you and your colleagues will be better equipped to navigate conflicts, express emotions effectively, and empathize with the feelings of others.

What To Do If You Can’t Resolve a Conflict

When conflicts seem to be beyond resolution through usual communication channels, mediation or seeking third-party assistance can be a helpful strategy. Mediation involves an impartial person who facilitates a constructive dialogue between the conflicting parties to help them find a mutually acceptable solution. Here are some steps to follow when employing mediation in your workplace:

  1. Choose a neutral mediator: It’s crucial to select a person who is not involved in the conflict and has no personal stake in the outcome. This can be someone from within the company, like an HR representative, or an external professional mediator.
  2. Provide an open forum: Encourage both sides to express their viewpoints without interruption, focusing on understanding each other’s perspectives. The mediator must ensure that everyone is heard and not allow personal attacks.
  3. Use active listening skills: Throughout the mediation process, show genuine interest in understanding the concerns of both parties by listening to understand rather than formulating counterarguments.
  4. Facilitate collaborative problem-solving: The mediator should work with the disputants to generate potential solutions, encouraging them to think creatively and collaboratively. This process empowers those involved to take ownership of their decisions and may lead to more lasting resolutions.

In some cases, mediation might not be sufficient to resolve the conflict, and you may need to seek external assistance. Legal professionals, industry-specific conflict resolution experts, or third-party organizations can be valuable resources in managing complex disputes.

Summary

In your journey to manage conflict in the workplace, it’s essential to recognize the inevitability of conflict and focus on establishing a positive, collaborative environment. Developing strong conflict management skills and applying effective strategies can help you and your team navigate challenging situations, leading to growth and improved communication. Remember to:

  • Identify the root cause of conflict
  • Practice active listening and empathy
  • Embrace a solution-oriented mindset
  • Keep an open mind and stay curious
  • Collaborate with your coworkers, seeking mutually beneficial solutions