9 Tips to manage conflict in the workplace

Many of us grew up with the idea that conflict should be avoided,  that conflict is bad and that time will fix everything.

As kids, our parents would tell us not to argue with our siblings, our teachers would many times punish us for  “fighting”, Grandma would give us a candy to “calm down”.

Reality is that conflict is part of our lives and is not necessarily bad.

Conflicts emerge for different reasons, but always means that at least two people do not agree with a thought, do not share a belief, or have incompatible ideas. And that happens everywhere. It happens at home, where supposedly the two “parties” love one another, are more patient and tolerant, are tied by emotional knots. “Parties” that theoretically chose to share a life, are bound for similar interests.

What about conflict in the workplace, where you gather people from different cultures, different believes, that do not necessarily t share an emotional bond?

Do you know that strong feeling that comes up when someone who is much newer than you in the company, who you do not even believe is that competent, gets that promotions that you thought would be yours? Yeah…ego, pride, injustice…however we call it, that is sure a huge conflict trigger!

Or that micromanager boss of yours that want you to report every single step of a project that you are working on and does not really empower you? Another trigger…

In a Canadian study about conflict, Psychometrics found that more than 93% of the respondents had to deal with conflict one time or another; that the most frequent outcome of workplace conflict is people leaving the organization (81%); and that the main causes of conflict are warring egos (86%) and poor leadership from the top of the organization (73%). Curious but not surprising.

Jealousy, ego, pride, bad communication, emotions, competition, difference in style,  unclear policies, personality differences, and unclear expectations are some of the causes of conflict in the workplace.

Does it ring the bell?  Absolutely! Conflict happens and it is normal. How you, as leader, handles the conflict is what really makes the difference, what really matters.

Setting expectations, making acceptable behaviors clear, communicating frequently and concisely, listening and acknowledging concerns, acting early on those concerns, leading by example, being approachable and friendly can reduce the conflicts in your workplace, however being ready to deal with conflict is an absolute MUST for any leader.

Getting formal training as a mediator was one of the best things I did for both my personal and professional success. Learning how to get to the actual reason for the conflict and learning to ask the right questions made me very successful on finding “win-win” resolutions. So, here are some tips for you leader to manage conflict and get to positive outcomes:

1-    Be aware that conflict will happen at one time or another and act quickly: do not wait for the conflict to get more serious that it needs to be.

2-    Listen, listen, listen. Some times, all the parties need is really to be heard, to vent.

3-    Be open-minded. You will be dealing with people who have different culture, different values, believes, goals, and understanding of issues. Try to understand both parties’ points of view. Respect their differences.

4-    Understand the actual reason of the conflict: the “parties” are usually emotionally involved, many times so deeply, that they cannot really tell the reason for the conflict. The trigger is not necessarily the reason.

5-    Do never take sides. You are not the judge, you are not there to blame anyone. Your role is to solve the conflict. Once you get involved and take sides, one of the parties will automatically be defensive and every solution will seem unfair and unreasonable. You are a facilitator, act as one.

6-    Make sure that the communication is clear and concise, that all parties have a clear understanding of the matter. When they get to the solution, to a bilateral compromise, write it down.

7-    Always aim towards “win-win” outcomes: if one of them ends up “losing”, the conflict is likely to re –emerge.

8-    Follow through and follow-up. Make sure that after an agreement is reached, the parties are sticking to it!

9-    Look for opportunities to point out the success of the outcome, compliment the parties insights, cooperation and achievement . Praise them for their progress.

Sooner or later leaders will have to manage conflict in the workplace, so my main tip is “look at conflict as an opportunity to grow and to help others to grow”!

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2 Responses

  1. Great insight! I think that many people either have a natural fear of politics or are on the opposite end of the spectrum and jump at the opportunity to partake in personal attacks. There is a happy medium by being open to disagreement while avoiding personal accusations.

  2. I really like your tips to manage conflict in the workplace! They are good. I agree that conflict is a lot about communication and that conflict can lead to an opportunity for employees to access to success. I developed as well the notion of conflict in the workplace but especially explained by the communication factors. If you want to have a look: http://essentialprworld.wordpress.com/
    Claire.

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