5 Strategies you can use to Handle Conflict at Work

Conflict is a natural consequence of human interaction and is inevitable in the workplace.

When employees clash, they can become concerned with defending their viewpoints that they cease to communicate. Mutual distrust starts to build up and threatens workplace relationships.

This does not mean that conflicts are a bad thing, as disagreements can be productive and motivate people to do better. Your role as the manager is not to prevent conflicts, but to prevent conflicts from becoming a disruptive force in the workplace. Conflicts can have the power to generate constructive dialogue and develop new ideas too. This may sound contradictory, but it is true to some extent.

Often, managers are tasked to act as mediators between employees.

Here are 5 strategies you can use to handle conflict at work:

  1. Admit there is a problem

As the saying goes, “The first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is a problem to be solved”. Reaching a peaceful resolution means that there is a need for honesty and courage to recognise that there is a problem and facing it to rectify a problem. At the start of the meeting, you will need to let both parties agree that there is a problem and that they are willing to work on resolving the issues facing them. As the mediator, you will need to explain the mediation process and answer any questions that arise. You will also stress to the employees the confidentiality of the mediation session. The goal of the mediation is an agreement between the employees that gives them a basis upon which to solve their problem and avoid future ones. 

2. Listen carefully and reserve your judgement

Let each individual be given an opportunity to speak and no one is allowed to interrupt. This phase may turn out to be a time-consuming and emotional session. But it is important to let everyone feel that they have contributed to the discussion. The manager needs to be an active listener, who is able to pay attention to both the words and body language of the affected parties. Letting both parties vent is important, as they will be more receptive to reaching a compromise later. As the mediator, you will need to refrain from making judgement calls on either party and instead remain an objective voice to successfully resolve their differences.

3. Focus on the facts

In clarifying and understanding the situation, it is vital that the manager highlights the facts of what has happened and not criticize personality traits. More importantly, note that we should not be making accusations on the person but that the spotlight is on addressing the issues that has surfaced from the conflict. Once things are taken personally, everything will go out of control. There is a famous quote from Albert Einstein that goes “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. This implies that a problem arises due to the various perspectives we have. Therefore, get both parties to write down everything they know that is true to the problem. When the facts are thrown out to the open, everyone’s understanding of the problem can be raised.

 4. Solve the problem

Help both parties identify what are the points of agreement and write them down. Even though both parties may be in conflict, they are likely to be on the same page in achieving a particular goal. Define the differences and discuss how they would plan to work on the conflict. If there are matters where it is impossible to reach a compromise, the mediator will then need to help both parties agree to disagree on these issues. Indicate the potential areas of agreement and actions to be taken to resolve the conflict.

5. Have a written agreement

Gain commitment to change. The manager should have both parties ink down the final solutions, which will serve as a reminder of what each party has agreed to do in order to resolve the problems. This document will be reviewed and signed by everyone, including you as the mediator. The benefits of the mediation session should be clear. This process boosts morale by helping to put an end to the disagreements and getting past the pent-up emotions of both parties. Finally, it may also be wise to consider discussing some actions that will be taken if there is no resolution of the conflict.

We hope that this article is helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to add?
Let us know in the comments and please share this post with a friend/colleague if you enjoyed it!

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