9 Key Steps for Conflict Resolution at Work

Here’s the thing – leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, you should not be in a leadership role. From my perspective, the issues surrounding conflict resolution can be best summed-up by adhering to the following ethos; ”Dont fear conflict; embrace it – its your job.” While you can try and avoid conflict (bad idea), you cannot escape conflict. The fact of the matter is conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. It will find you whether you look for it (good idea – more later) or not. The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and just resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader – the inability to do so may well be your downfall.

How many times over the years have you witnessed otherwise savvy professionals self-destruct because they wouldn’t engage out of a fear of conflict? Putting one’s head in the sand and hoping that conflict will pass you by is not the most effective methodology for problem solving. Conflict rarely resolves itself – in fact, conflict normally escalates if not dealt with proactively and properly. It is not at all uncommon to see what might have been a non-event manifest itself into a monumental problem if not resolved early on.

One of my favorite examples of what I described in the paragraph above is the weak leader who cannot deal with subordinates who use emotional deceit as a weapon of destruction. Every workplace is plagued with manipulative people who use emotion to create conflict in order to cover-up for their lack of substance. These are the drama queens/kings that when confronted about wrongdoing and/or lack of performance are quick to point the finger in another direction. They are adept at using emotional tirades which often include crocodile tears, blameshifting, little lies, half truths and other trite manipulations to get away with total lack of substance. The only thing worse than what I’ve just described is leadership that doesn’t recognize it and/or does nothing about it. Real leaders don’t play favorites, don’t get involved in drama, and they certainly don’t tolerate manipulative, self-serving behavior.

Developing effective conflict resolution skill sets are an essential component of a building a sustainable business model. Unresolved conflict often results in loss of productivity, the stifling of creativity, and the creation of barriers to cooperation and collaboration. Perhaps most importantly for leaders, good conflict resolution ability equals good employee retention. Leaders who don’t deal with conflict will eventually watch their good talent walk out the door in search of a healthier and safer work environment.

So, what creates conflict in the workplace? Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, just someone having a bad day, etc. While the answer to the previous question would appear to lead to the conclusion that just about anything and everything creates conflict, the reality is that the root of most conflict is either born out of poor communication or the inability to control one’s emotions. Let’s examine these 2 major causes of conflict:

Communication: If you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered over the years, you’ll quickly recognize many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation. Let’s assume for a moment that you were lucky enough to have received good information, but didn’t know what to do with it…That is still a communication problem, which in turn can lead to conflict. Clear, concise, accurate, and timely communication of information will help to ease both the number and severity of conflicts.

Emotions: Another common mistake made in workplace communications which leads to conflict is letting emotions drive decisions. I have witnessed otherwise savvy executives place the need for emotional superiority ahead of achieving their mission (not that they always understood this at the time). Case in point – have you ever witnessed an employee throw a fit of rage and draw the regrettable line in the sand in the heat of the moment? If you have, what you really watched was a person indulging their emotions rather than protecting their future.

The very bane of human existence, which is in fact human nature itself, will always create gaps in thinking & philosophy, and no matter how much we all wish it wasn’t so…it is. So the question then becomes how to effectively deal with conflict when it arises. It is essential for organizational health and performance that conflict be accepted and addressed through effective conflict resolution processes. While having a conflict resolution structure is important, effective utilization of conflict resolution processes is ultimately dependant upon the ability of all parties to understand the benefits of conflict resolution, and perhaps more importantly, their desire to resolve the matter. The following tips will help to more effective handle conflicts in the workplace:

1. Define Acceptable Behavior: You know what they say about assuming…Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Creating a framework for decisioning, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help avoid conflicts. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them, and a well articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help avoid conflicts. Clearly and publicly make it known what will and wont be tolerated.

2. Hit Conflict Head-on: While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it has been my experience that the secret to conflict resolution is in fact conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a just and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly. Time spent identifying and understanding natural tensions will help to avoid unnecessary conflict.

3. Understanding the WIIFM Factor: Understanding the other professionals WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in. The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.

4. The Importance Factor: Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional and/or philosophical gaps.

5. View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity. Divergent positions addressed properly can stimulate innovation and learning in ways like minds cant even imagine. Smart leaders look for the upside in all differing opinions.

Bottom line…I believe resolution can normally be found with conflicts where there is a sincere desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener, service above self, and numerous other approaches will always allow one to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough. However, when all else fails and positional gaps cannot be closed, resolve the issue not by playing favorites, but by doing the right thing.

The resolution of conflicts in the workplace typically involves some or all of the following processes: Recognition by the parties involved that a problem exists. Mutual agreement to address the issue and find some resolution. An effort to understand the perspective and concerns of the opposing individual or group.
  1. Clarify what is the source of conflict.
  2. Find a safe and private place to talk.
  3. Listen actively and let everyone have their say.
  4. Investigate the situation.
  5. Determine ways to meet the common goal.

Why There’s So Much Conflict at Work and What You Can Do to Fix It | Liz Kislik | TEDxBaylorSchool

Why is conflict resolution important?

Conflict resolution is essential to maintaining a productive workforce and high workplace morale. Through conflict resolution, you can:

What is conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is the process of resolving a dispute between two or more people. Conflict can occur between individual coworkers, between managers, between a manager and a member of their team or between a service provider and a customer or client. It can also occur between groups of people, such as between management and their workforce or between entire departments. When a dispute arises, the best course of action is to use negotiation to resolve the problem. Through negotiation, you can resolve the problem quickly, identify a solution all parties agree to and improve the relationship between the groups in conflict.

How to resolve conflict in the workplace

Here are some steps you can use to resolve conflict in your own workplace:

1. Understand the conflict

Before you begin communicating with the other party, fully understand your position in the conflict and the position of the other party. It’s also important to clarify your own interests and those of the other person. Think about what it is that you really care about in the conflict, what your concerns are and what you would like to see happen. Go through the same exercise, thinking about the conflict from the other party’s perspective. Think through what agreements you might be able to reach.

2. Explore alternatives

In some cases, the parties are not able to reach an agreeable solution in a conflict. You need to take this into consideration before you sit down with the other party to resolve the issue. Think about at what point you will walk away from the conflict and what you will do if you can’t reach an agreement. Then when you’re brainstorming possible resolutions to the conflict, you can compare each of those solutions to the best alternative that you have already decided upon and rapidly determine if the new solution is better.

3. Find a private, neutral place

It’s important to find a quiet and neutral location where you can discuss the conflict in private. Because the goal, ultimately, is to eliminate tension, a private location is essential. A manager’s office or even in a conference room may work well if you can close the doors and speak privately without being interrupted.

4. Communicate both sides

Once you have thought through your interests and those of the other party and have located a private, neutral place in which you can speak, it’s time to communicate with one another directly. Here are some tips you can use to make the most of that time together:

5. Be aware of body language

Be mindful of your body language, as you are conveying information to the other party without even having to speak. You want to project calmness and open-mindedness. Some ways to do this are to:

6. Identify a common goal

In this step, both parties agree on the desired outcome for the conflict. Once everyone has moved past the root cause of the problem, they often discover that they are working towards the same goal, they just have different opinions on how to reach that goal. Discuss what you would like to see happen and what your interests are. Invite the other party to do the same. Once you’ve identified the common goal, you can start working towards a resolution.

7. Use a third-party mediator

In some cases, it may be useful to use a neutral third party whom everyone trusts to be fair. This can help ensure both parties understand one another fully and, if necessary, continually remind everyone of the ultimate goal so that the conversation and brainstorming session remains productive. Some possible jobs for the mediator are:

8. Brainstorm solutions

Now that you fully understand the conflict, the interests of each party and the common goal for all parties, you can start thinking about possible solutions. Try to come up with as many ideas as possible. Look for win-win solutions or compromises that all parties can agree upon.

Discuss each idea. Consider what’s involved and whether the idea involves other people who should be consulted. If an idea cannot be used, discuss why it won’t work. If the conflict is between you and someone who works under you, use their ideas first to increase the personal commitment on their part and make them feel heard.

9. Agree on a plan of action

Identify different solutions that both you and the other party can accept and see where there is common ground. Ideally, you would identify a solution that’s a win-win for everyone involved. However, if this isn’t possible, look for an idea that everyone can agree with and commit to.

FAQ

What are the 5 conflict resolution strategies?

The Top 5 Conflict Resolution Strategies
  • Don’t Ignore Conflict. …
  • Clarify What the Issue Is. …
  • Bring Involved Parties Together to Talk. …
  • Identify a Solution. …
  • Continue to Monitor and Follow Up on the Conflict.

How do you solve a conflict at work?

How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace
  1. Talk with the other person. …
  2. Focus on behavior and events, not on personalities. …
  3. Listen carefully. …
  4. Identify points of agreement and disagreement. …
  5. Prioritize the areas of conflict. …
  6. Develop a plan to work on each conflict. …
  7. Follow through on your plan. …
  8. Build on your success.

What are the 4 ways to resolve conflict?

4 steps To resolve Conflict: CARE
  • Communicate. Open communication is key in a dispute. …
  • Actively Listen. Listen to what the other person has to say, without interrupting. …
  • Review Options. Talk over the options, looking for solutions that benefit everyone. …
  • End with a Win-Win Solution.

What are the 7 steps in conflict resolution?

7 Steps to Conflict Resolution (Without the Dread)
  • Set a Discussion Time. …
  • Invite a Third Party. …
  • Figure Out the Main Issue. …
  • Establish Common Goals. …
  • Discuss how to Meet Goals. …
  • Agree on a Way Forward. …
  • Determine Resolution Roles.

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