How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

Effective leadership for a harmonious workplace

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There’s nothing more damaging to a productive working environment than conflict. When people in your workplace are at loggerheads about an issue, the tension can cause a rift between individuals or even whole groups within a team. This can cause breakdowns in communication, a lack of cooperation, and heated disagreements. Any one of these things can have a massively detrimental impact on efficiency and output, and can ultimately lead to staff losses and reduced revenue. 

Conflicts can arise from a great many sources, whether they be personal or professional. They may seem daunting to manage, but in order to keep your business running as smoothly as possible, it’s important you learn how best to nip these things in the bud. Here are some of the key points to bear in mind. 

Develop empathy

Empathy is absolutely crucial when learning to manage workplace conflict. Without it, you likely won’t be able to understand the root of the issue, and those involved will feel as though they aren’t being heard. It’s important for everyone involved to feel as though their point of view is being understood and taken into consideration. After all, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if they didn’t really care about the issue at hand. 

So talk to every person and try to put yourself in their position. Think about how the issue will be affecting them both professionally and personally, and ensure you remain mindful of these things when deciding what course of action to take. 

Don’t take sides

Empathy is nothing in these situations if you don’t apply it to each side of the conflict. While you may have a point of view on the matter that aligns with what one party is saying, it is necessary to remain objective. You need to take everyone’s point of view into consideration and approach the issue from a neutral standpoint. Otherwise, you risk adding fuel to the fire, and potentially even becoming entangled yourself.  

Guide the conversation

In order to really work out the problems at play in your workplace, you have to step into your role as a leader. If the involved parties are left to their own devices, chances are that little (if any) progress will be made, and the conflict could really start to spiral out of control. So try and get everyone together for a conversation, and let them know that the end-goal is resolution. 

It is your responsibility to set the parameters of this discussion and make sure that the tone is kept professional. Everyone needs to bear in mind that this is about resolving a conflict to ensure a positive, productive working environment. 

Encourage employees to communicate in a way that is calm and clear 

In addition to guiding the conversation, you need to make sure that each person stays respectful when they speak. If tensions begin to rise, you can very quickly lose control of the situation. 

So make sure you give each person an opportunity to explain their side of the story clearly and in full, without interruption. While the others may not like what they have to say, allowing each person the space and time to get their point across will help to build understanding, and ensure that no one is cut off. 

Get to the root of the deeper issue

You need to understand that surface issues may crop up, but they should not be your main focus. Particularly in the case of longer-running conflicts, there is a tendency for more personal and inane problems to come to the fore. But if you dig deeper and encourage those involved to be honest, thoughtful, and mindful of the end-goal, then you have a far greater chance of rooting out the cause of the conflict. The likelihood is that the surface issues will also be resolved – or at least become more manageable – by tackling the bigger picture. 

Listen carefully and actively

It is crucial that all parties feel heard when managing a conflict, and active listening is the best way to do just that. 

Active listening shows the person speaking that you are engaged, taking what they have said into consideration, and prepared to do something with the information they have offered. To do this effectively, you need to ask questions and ensure you are clear on every important detail. Not only will this help you to make the best decision based on the available information, but it will also make those involved feel they can trust you to manage things fairly. 

Don’t allow issues to be ignored 

This piece of advice is absolutely vital. While avoiding an issue can cause it to disappear in the short term, it will inevitably come bubbling back up eventually. So it’s important to make sure you resolve issues in the workplace as soon as they arise. Otherwise, you risk an even more explosive conflict next time. 

This is true even of smaller conflicts. In fact, if you learn to manage the less obvious problems as they crop up, you can avoid anything bigger, messier, and more detrimental building. So give yourself the best chance of keeping your office productive and your employees happy: learn to spot the signs and root out potentially inflammatory problems, before they overwhelm the working environment. 

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