3 Successful Ways to Manage Workplace Conflict

BY C. Lee Smith
Featured image for “3 Successful Ways to Manage Workplace Conflict”

One job aspect that continues to challenge most managers is workplace conflict. Managers may be naturally conflict-​avoidant. Or they may lack the skills to resolve disagreements that consume valuable resources such as time and positive energy.

Regardless of skill levels or personal feelings, managers must address this problem.

3 Successful Ways to Manage Workplace Conflict

In a perfect world, managers become aware of strife as soon as it happens. Unfortunately, too many managers are busy putting out fires or trying to impress their higher-​ups. If team members have been arguing about being disrespected, the manager may not notice right away.

Arguments don’t usually resolve on their own. They escalate until something ugly happens – such as a fistfight in the conference room.

No manager wants to see workplace discord rise to this level. If you want to get ahead of these situations, put a plan in place.

Your plan should include three important aspects.

  • Establish Workplace Behavioral Guidelines
  • Listen to All Impacted Team Members
  • Include Conflicting Parties in Resolution Design

Establish Workplace Behavioral Guidelines

We all come to the workplace, whether in person or online, with previously established expectations. Employees who are just starting their professional careers may rely on guidelines they learned in the classroom. They may believe they need to stay at their desks until 5:00 p.m. every day.

More seasoned team members may have learned that it’s acceptable to head to the golf course on slow afternoons. It's these differences in expected behavior that lead to conflict.

When managers put guidelines in place and follow them, they set an example for their team members. They can also use these guidelines to remind employees of acceptable workplace behavior. Most importantly, they can refer to these guidelines during times of conflict.

What happens when employees complain about a co-​worker who consistently fails to complete a critical task in a timely manner? With guidelines in place, you, as the manager, have a place to start in resolving the conflict.

Listen to All Impacted Team Members

In any dispute, there are at least two people with different opinions. Each individual likely believes they are right. Strong emotions may surface even if they quarrel about something small, such as access to a specific parking space.

It’s your duty to gather information in an orderly and nonjudgmental way. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you’re having a bad day. Be sure to get your own emotions under control before tackling conflict.

If these individuals have butted heads before, your goal should be to find the root cause of the conflict. Often it has nothing to do with the parking space or the conference room, but with a team member’s workplace aspirations. 

Their chief workplace motivations may revolve around creativity or having authority. Team members who sense a threat to their ability to achieve a goal may act out. 

As a manager, you can anticipate this kind of behavior by studying the psychometric assessments of each employee. Ultimately, you’ll want to hear all sides of the story in managing workplace conflict. You’ll also need to understand the motivations of affected team members.

Include Conflicting Parties in Resolution Design

When working toward a resolution, remind your team members that their behavior must fall within the established guidelines. Addressing any of those violations first should be a key goal. Doing so is the mark of a manager who wants to maintain a safe workplace.

Identify what each team member imagines will be an ideal outcome. This is also the time to assist them in comprising. Ask them what they are willing to give up.

When you have assembled that information and understand everyone’s motivations, you’re closer to a resolution. The better news is these actions may help you avoid future battles between these employees.

Many managers would prefer to run for the exits when employees argue. But when you take proactive steps to fully explore workplace conflict, you’ll earn respect. And when you develop resolutions for the long term, you also demonstrate what you expect for a workplace culture.

Photo on Pexels by Antoni Shkraba.