Leadership 101: How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict is a normal occurrence in the workplace. This is due to the fact that the individuals that make up the workplace all have differing views and their own ways of doing things. This article explains how to resolve conflict in the workplace.

While differences may cause conflict from time to time, the fact that your employees all have something new and unique to contribute to the success of your company is a sign of a healthy and thriving work environment.

In fact, you can even argue that conflict brings about a breakthrough of ideas as two parties with conflicting views push each other to the limit — resulting in a healthy compromise for the greater good. Now, the keyword there is “healthy”.

Because while some forms of conflict are necessary, there are times wherein conflict is disruptive and a good leader must also be able to address and resolve conflict in a manner that is fair to both parties.

This becomes more important as workplace conflict that is mishandled can lead to a slew of negative effects on your business. It can even get so bad that it ends up escalating and leading to unwanted staff turnover.

This is something you don’t want as it will cost you both time and resources, as you will need to re-hire and train a person to replace the employee that just left. Not to mention that conflict can also lead to reduced morale in the workplace, which will eventually lead to a decline in productivity.

Given all the negative repercussions, you’ll want to resolve conflicts as efficiently and effectively as possible. So how do you go about this? Today, we’ll be going through the different approaches that you can take to resolve conflicts within the workplace. We’ll also be giving you some tips on how to avoid unnecessary conflict, as these tend to be hindrances to a productive workplace.

How to Resolve Conflict

Get to the root of the problem

As with any problem, the first thing you have to do is get to the root of the issue. The last thing that you would want to do is to attack a problem without fully understanding it. So one question you have to ask before anything else is what is the reason for the conflict in the first place?

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Now, there will surely be times wherein the parties won’t be able to determine the cause of the conflict due to their biases. This is where you, as a leader, come in. The ability to discern, understand and recognise conflict is a good benchmark for leadership.

The most important thing when it comes to getting to the root of the problem is to listen to both parties and get the facts straight. Now, in this case, right or wrong doesn’t matter as much, as the main point of listening is to let the parties feel like they’ve been heard. Leave your questions for later and give them the avenue to make their point.

Act as a neutral mediator

After hearing both sides, you now have to take a step back and come up with a compromise that’ll be beneficial for the goals of your company. Other than resolving the issue, the other goal here is to make sure that none of the parties feel like they’ve been treated unfairly.

Gerald Ainomugisha’s article on How Great Managers Can Fix Employee Frustration lists office politics as one of the main sources of grief in the workplace and the last thing you’d want is for either of the parties involved to chalk this matter up to office politicking.

To resolve conflict, act as the bridge between the two parties to help them find common ground. This only makes sense as the conflict stems from their disagreements, so logically the solution lies in their commonalities.

From there, guide the conversation in a way that brings the parties involved closer to their end goal. This shouldn’t be too difficult as the parties involved have the same goal in mind, just different ways of executing it.

Have both parties agree to a conflict resolution plan

Lastly, a conflict resolution plan co-signed and agreed upon by both parties will go a long way into ensuring the finality of the solution. Formulating the plan will involve going through any lingering issue that either of the parties still has regarding the problem.

They will then outline the steps they will take to resolve the issue in a formal document, as this acts both as a means of documenting the incident and as a means of explaining the solution that both parties have arrived at.

More and more companies are adopting a formal approach to conflict resolution. WeWork has even gone as far as to incorporate arbitration into the process, a step that the company has taken in hopes of dealing with complaints and conflicts as fairly as possible.

Applying a multi-step and formal process to conflict resolution ensures a thorough examination of both parties’ side of the argument, which will result in an optimal solution to the entire debacle.

How to resolve conflict

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Preventing Conflict

Establish healthy lines of communication within the company

While the benefits of communication have already been discussed in the article on The Power of Two-Way Collaborative Employee Relationships, establishing healthy lines of communication within your company will also go a long way in reducing disruptive conflict.

This means establishing a culture that promotes productive and straightforward conversations. And while there are many ways you can go about doing this, there are specific things that you should be avoiding at all costs. Office gossip is counter-intuitive to establishing a culture of healthy communication.

It encourages talking behind someone’s back instead of being straightforward and addressing your issues with them head-on, thus leaving more room for conflict to grow.

Another thing that’s to be avoided at all costs would be closed-mindedness, as everyone in the company must be aware that everyone comes from a different background and that these differences should be embraced and nurtured.

Invest In your employees’ mental health

Mental health has always been the focus of many initiatives geared towards improving employee productivity. However, what people fail to realise is that mental health also influences other aspects of the workplace.

Indeed, psychologists from Maryville University have examined the link between a person’s ability to work and their mental wellbeing, with the studies finding that the better your mental state is, the less likely you’ll experience negative events in the office.

This includes minimising the risk of unnecessary conflict caused by employees lashing out or being generally irritable, as both of these things are common in stressed and burnt-out employees.

There are a variety of ways that you can approach this issue. You can bring in professionals such as psychologists that your employees can consult with to address any underlying issues they may have.

Another way would be to focus on prioritising work-life balance by encouraging your employees to take more vacations to prevent them from being burnt-out. Mental health is a complex issue, so it’s best to play it by ear and see what would best work for your company.

Practice pre-mediation within your teams

While conflict is indicative of a flourishing company that is open to differences, unnecessary conflict is a waste of time and resources. So how do you prevent unnecessary conflict? One great way to do this is by pre-empting it with pre-mediation.

Pre-mediation is an informal discussion regarding potential problems employees may have in the hope of getting ahead of them and nipping conflict in the bud by identifying and mitigating potential problems.

The discussions will tackle work dynamics and issues that could affect an individual’s performance down the line. A professor from Harvard Business School emphasises how getting ahead of potential problems also encourages healthy discourse between employees on topics and issues that can often be difficult to discuss, which will further reduce the risk of conflicts arising in the long run.

In Summary

Conflict can be good as long as it is productive. There are steps you can take to lessen the occurrences of disruptive conflict. All of these steps revolve around taking care of your employees, opening the lines of communication, and getting ahead of potential problems before they get worse.

However, not all conflicts can be avoided. While you can do all you can to minimise the risk of conflict, there will be situations where it is inevitable. For these situations, it’s important to remember to remain objective.

Remember that getting to the root of the issue is the fastest way to resolve conflict. Keep in mind that resolving the conflict isn’t enough, as you’ll also need both parties to accept the solution to prevent any more issues from coming up in the future.


About the Author

Leslie James is an aspiring freelance writer. She is enthralled by modern startup culture and the effects of employee engagement on a company. She hopes to finish her MBA in the near future.

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