How to deal with a conflict at work
While it’s not desired, conflict in the workplace occasionally happens. Conflict can occur for various reasons such as different work styles, opinions or differing goals between colleagues.
Having the right skills to navigate conflict can solve workplace issues, improve productivity, and strengthen workplace relationships. Whether you’re the CIO or in an entry-level position, everyone can benefit from honing their conflict resolution skills.
What is conflict resolution?
Conflict resolution involves two or more individuals finding a mutually beneficial solution to a dispute.
Conflict doesn’t discriminate. Within the workplace, conflict can exist between anyone. It can happen between two co-workers, supervisors and their employees or even between employees and their clients or customers.
The conflict resolution process
- Both parties recognize a problem exists
- Agreement to address the issue and come to a resolution
- Understand the perspective and concerns of all parties involved
- Identify what changes can be made to attitudes, behaviours and approaches to lessen
- Take note of what triggered the conflict
- Bring in a third party to mediate, such as human resources (HR) representatives or higher-level managers
- Willingness from one or both parties to compromise
- Both individuals or groups agree on a plan to address conflict
- Monitoring and following up on the impact of
- Enforcing discipline or termination of uncooperative employees in the conflict resolution process.
All or just some of the above steps will be necessary to arrive at a resolution.
8 Conflict resolution skills
- Effective communication
- Active listening
Workplace conflicts can be resolved formally or casually, but no matter the setting, you’ll always need the following essential skills:
Knowing how to communicate both verbally and non-verbally is essential to conflict resolution. Effective communication involves speaking clearly and accurately to avoid further misunderstandings.
Active listening requires focusing on a speaker by not just hearing but understanding their message and responding appropriately. Use verbal and non-verbal cues to let the speaker know you are listening. To resolve conflict, you first need to get to the root of the problem, which requires active listening from all involved parties. Like effective communication, active listening can help prevent misunderstandings.
Empathy is all about understanding the feeling of others. Without empathy, you can’t recognize how your actions affect others or understand the opposing party’s perspective, which is essential to conflict resolution.
This skill is the ability to guide conflicts and get people back on track by providing opportunities and resources. Rather than one dictator, facilitation allows everyone to be a contributor. An example of facilitation is a supervisor organizing a private space for the conflicted parties to work out their differences.
Mediation is the ability to remain neutral when resolving conflict. Having this skill is essential when offering an objective perspective of the issue. A mediator might be a trained professional or any party external to the issue.
Problem-solving skills help determine the source of conflict and find effective and mutually beneficial solutions. An example of problem-solving is a project manager re-allocating roles to conflict-prone team members.
In times of conflict, assertiveness looks like taking action instead of waiting around for someone else to. You can show assertiveness by addressing issues with colleagues as soon as a problem arises.
This skill requires taking ownership for faults as well as following through with the agreed solution. Accountability can be self-enforced or facilitated by an outside party.
Without accountability, one or both parties might resort to undesirable behaviours leading to further conflict.
Additional conflict resolution skills:
- Stress management
- Emotional intelligence
- Conflict analysis
- Decision making
- Critical thinking
Conflict resolution skills in action
- Supervisors can establish accountability by documenting problematic behaviours to be brought up in future performance evaluations.
- HR representative
- Using active listening to understand and define a conflict between two employees.
- Manager facilitating a staff meeting to discuss ongoing conflict.
- A co-worker being assertive by seeking out a colleague to find a way to work together in harmony.
- A supervisor mediating two employees to find common ground.
- A manager encouraging empathy by asking conflicting employees to consider how their actions impacted the other.
Tips for conflict resolution
Remain calm and use open body language
Before you approach the situation:
- Take a moment to center yourself. When navigating conflict resolution, you must stay calm and level-headed to avoid letting your emotions take over.
- Start with a few deep breaths. Deep inhale and deep exhale.
- Focus on maintaining open body language.
- Rather than standing, take a seat and plant your feet on the floor to keep you grounded.
- Maintain eye contact and keep your arms to your side to keep your body open.
Look out for non-verbal cues
In moments of conflict, we often catch ourselves saying things we don’t mean or not saying anything at all. Watch for non-verbal cues such as body language or facial expressions. An eye roll or crossed arms might tell another story than what the person says. For particularly non-confrontational individuals, they might quickly agree to a solution just to speed up the conflict resolution process.
Remember why the relationship is important
Conflicts are challenging and can sometimes feel like a lost cause. When going through your conflict resolution steps, remind yourself of the positive interactions you’ve had with the opposing party. Keeping this in mind can help you get in the right headspace to find a win-win solution.
Focus on current conflict and ignore the past
Avoid bringing up past conflicts you’ve had with the opposing individual or group. Acknowledging past issues won’t do anything but escalate the situation further. When managing conflict, try to address the issue sooner rather than later.
Use humour (where appropriate)
Humour can lighten the mood and defuse any tension when things get heavy. It can also make those involved feel more comfortable discussing the issue. Keep in mind humour is not appropriate for all situations, such as when conflicts are due to something personal.
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