Five ways to... resolve workplace conflict

Conflict in the workplace is an almost unavoidable part of a job at some time in your career, and the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the more likely it is that you will be faced with some level of conflict between team members.

Five ways to... resolve workplace conflict

Learning how to effectively manage conflict is critical because, left unresolved, serious conflict can damage morale, impact turnover and may lead to unnecessary litigation. Here are five ways to resolve conflict constructively.

1. Identify the problem

Acknowledging conflict is the first step on the road to resolving it. It may be that you perceive the issue to be minor, and are therefore tempted to ignore it, or hope it will pass. But feelings of resentment are subjective and it’s important not to minimise or belittle the issue, but to show empathy.

2. Stay neutral

Once you have have examined the roots of the conflict objectively and thoroughly, you are likely to form your own opinion as to who is right or wrong, or who has the moral high ground. You will not be able to manage conflict successfully in your team if you takes sides, or are seen to take sides, so it’s imperative you stay neutral. If you’re struggling to remain neutral, consider asking another manager or even a trained mediator to take your place. Neutrality must be conveyed as well as experienced, so be careful of the way you speak. Avoid using judgmental language, or sarcasm, and be careful when using humour which can sometimes be used to defuse a tense confrontation but, equally, can end up fuelling the flames of bitter resentment if one of the parties believes their gripes are not being taken seriously.

3. Listen

The purpose of listening in conflict resolution is not for the listener to get the facts, but to support the speaker in understanding their own thoughts and feelings about the destructive conflict they are involved in. Encourage each of the parties to acknowledge the validity of the other’s point of view by listening to what each is saying with an open mind. Ultimately, conflict resolution is a learning opportunity for everyone involved, including you, and can benefit the company as a whole and change how it is run for the better.

4. Separate people from problems

People in conflict tend to become personally involved with the issues and their side’s positions, so they tend to take responses to those issues and positions as personal attacks. Part of your role is to encourage the parties to focus on the problem rather than the person. Many workplaces have ‘difficult’ employees but, for conflict to be resolved, individuals must look beyond disagreeable personalities and focus on the problem at hand.

5. Explore options together

Having focused on the problem and how to solve it, and turning away from blame, emotions, and individuals, you are in the best position to help them reach a fair resolution. Everyone should understand the problem better and the parties should suggest solutions, which makes it more likely that all parties will feel satisfied with the result.