Every workplace, no matter how awesome the people and the culture, is going to experience conflict and disagreements. They’re often uncomfortable and tricky to navigate, and it’s always best to put out the flame before it grows into a massive wildfire.
But in order to manage these situations, you need to develop conflict resolution strategies.
What Is Conflict Resolution?
Conflict resolution is simply a way for two or more people to agree on a peaceful solution.
Your ultimate goal with conflict resolution is to:
- Build the relationship between those involved.
- Find a solution that is mutually beneficial for everyone.
- Resolve the tension as quickly as possible.
But in order to accomplish these things and successfully resolve conflict, you need a certain set of skills.
Conflict Resolution Skills You Should Brush Up On
In order to appropriately and effectively address and resolve issues between people, you should develop a unique set of skills.
The following skills help in personal disputes and are also are hugely beneficial to use in the workplace when things get tense.
It’s important to not just hear both sides, but actively listen to both.
Make sure that both people feel completely heard and understood. Acknowledge what they say and the core issue they seem to have with the other person.
The ability to stay positive in any situation is incredibly important to being able to resolve conflicts.
If you bring in negativity as a mediator, you’re only going to add to the issue and further fuel the fire.
Being able to express empathy for both people on either side of the conflict can go a long way in aiding conflict resolution. People want to feel that you really understand what they’re feeling and why.
There’s nothing more frustrating to an already aggravated person than feeling like the mediator doesn’t understand why they’re really upset.
As with conflict anywhere, patience is a virtue.
No matter how heated the situation may become, it’s important to maintain level-headed patience with everyone. Becoming frustrated will only make the problem worse.
Good conflict resolution requires a certain level of emotional intelligence. This skill is a little bit slower to be learned than the others on this list, but it’s easily one of the most important.
You have to be able to process complex and negative emotions and understand where they’re coming from and how to resolve them.
Communication is one of the most elemental skills for resolving conflicts. Without clear, effective communication, you likely won’t get anywhere.
Conflicts are often stressful situations, even for the mediator. You have to be able to deal with two (or sometimes more) aggravated individuals and find a way to navigate a very tense situation.
Your ability to manage stress can directly impact your capacity for effectively resolving conflicts.
What Is Workplace Conflict?
You need to understand that conflict isn’t inherently bad in all aspects of life. In fact, it’s important to have conflicts in certain circumstances in the workplace, like brainstorming ideas and changing strategies.
Constructive conflict can help you more than hurt you, and it can pave the road for growth opportunities in the workplace.
It Sparks Conversation, Leading to Insightful Questions.
With conflict comes change – it stirs engaging conversations that can lead to a larger assessment of how things are working.
It Can Help Build Relationships.
Sometimes, having nothing but agreeable relationships with people creates fragility.
Being able to go through conflicts together and come out the other side with a positive resolution can actually strengthen the bonds and communication between coworkers.
It Opens Minds to New Ideas and Encourages New Perspectives.
The resolution of conflicts requires both sides to be open minded to the other’s perspective. This fluid pathway of thought can pave the way for completely new, fresh ideas.
While occasional conflicts can come with benefits and strengthen your team overall, you shouldn’t let constant disputes run wild in your office every day. If your team is experiencing a lot of conflict, it may be an indicator of a much bigger problem.
You need to know at what point and in what situations you can step in to help.
When You Should Step In and Resolve Conflict
The first step in resolving conflict is understanding the reasons behind conflict. On a human level, conflict can stem from opposing views, jealously, ego, health issues, etc.
But in actuality, you can boil down most disputes to a lack of communication and emotional intelligence from either party involved.
So how do you know when you need to step in? When does conflict make for a toxic workplace environment?
There are often plenty of warning signs that conflict has gotten out of hand.
There’s Anger in the Environment
If any expression of anger bubbles to the surface in an employee, this is an indicator that the issue has been stewing for a while.
Your Turnover Spikes
Conflicts can quickly lead to unhappy employees, and workplace disagreements are a high contributor to a person’s decision to leave their job in search of another.
No matter your industry, a high turnover rate is not good for business.
Trust Is Diminishing
If there’s a lack of trust throughout your team, then there’s obviously a big problem. Trust doesn’t break down for no reason – an event has to take place to disrupt it.
The Same Disagreements Keep Happening
If the same problems keep coming up, then they’re obviously not being appropriately resolved to a satisfactory degree in the first place.
Recurring issues need to be addressed and put to bed before they cause a serious problem.
Nothing impacts productivity like conflict. An angry, unhappy employee is an unfocused employee.
If you notice a drop in productivity, keep a close eye on the interactions between your teams.
Avoidance Between Employees
If two employees actually begin to avoid each other, then there’s obviously a big problem. But this is an office, not a playground.
Having two employees actively try to avoid each other is not conducive to productivity.
Meetings Feel Toxic
Conflict often causes tension in meetings, so keep an eye out for snarky or overly critical comments between team members.
Cliques Start to Form
Disputes can quickly divide an office.
If you’ve noticed that specific cliques have started to form, it’s important for you to determine whether these are simply individual friend groups or whether there’s an underlying cause to the division.
More Sick Days Are Taken
Tense environments cause a lot of stress, and stress is like a gut punch to your immune system.
If you’ve noticed an increased number of sick days being taken, it could just be that the flu is going around, or it could be that your office has become a breeding ground for distress.
Looking at all of these potential issues, it’s clear that ongoing conflicts left resolved can really hurt your company on a big scale.
Why Is It Important to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace?
Research has revealed the time and energy drain conflict can have on teams. In fact, U.S. employees spend nearly three hours a week in conflict.
All those hours add up to immense loss – it’s a full day of productivity lost each month and two and a half weeks out of the year.
That’s a lot of time to spend arguing, but unfortunately, it’s the truth – 85 percent of employees experience some kind of conflict, and 29 percent of employees say they almost constantly experience conflict at work.
So what does all of this mean? If you’re losing weeks of productivity each year and your employees are strongly disengaged and frustrated, you’re essentially standing in quicksand.
More employees will leave, and you’ll spend even more time replacing and training new hires, which further impacts productivity.
Luckily, there’s a solution. You don’t have to settle for the loss that results from office conflict.
5 Conflict Resolution Styles and Techniques
How you resolve workplace disagreements should align with your conflict management style.
Conflict management is the process of managing disputes, minimizing the negative effect of dispute, and streamlining how you help all parties involved reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
There are a number of different conflict management styles that are effective. You simply need to assess and decide which is the best option given your leadership style and the situation at hand.
Accommodative resolution styles put the needs of others before your own. You essentially forfeit your side of the argument to make the other person happy.
If the issue means more to the other person than to you, this might be a good option to try and keep the peace.
This isn’t exactly a resolution style because no active conflict management is used here. But sometimes, small, insignificant conflicts can get swept under the rug and are eventually forgotten about.
But in general, avoidance is not a strong conflict resolution style.
Coming to a compromise means finding a middle ground between the two people. Both parties will likely have to end up sacrificing something, but they’ll also gain something in return.
Compromises are a common and often highly effective method of conflict resolution.
Collaborative conflict resolution is one of the most advantageous methods because it’s often a win-win situation.
It’s less about finding a middle ground that requires sacrifice and more about coming to a solution that makes everyone happy. The end result of a conflict is high stakes; a collaborative approach is often used.
Competitive methods have a clear winner and loser in an argument. It’s when you strongly assert your perspective as the correct one, and the other side is forced to back down.
When it comes to conflicts over morals and ethics, competitive disputes are quite common.
Now that you’re aware of the various styles for approaching disputes, you’re ready to learn some techniques that could align with these styles.
Conflict Resolution Steps
There are a few simple steps you should keep in mind when you’re striving to resolve conflict. You need to bring all parties into a room, sit them down, and talk.
But once you all sit around the table to discuss the conflict, how do you manage the situation in general?
Easy – follow a few steps to help guide you through this process.
1. Establish Rules.
Make sure both parties know what to expect out of this communication, and how they should express themselves – without foul language, raised voices, etc.
2. Seek Descriptions of the Conflict from Both Parties.
This step is incredibly important – make sure both parties get a chance to speak and voice their grievances. They should be able to do so without being interrupted by the other side.
3. Encourage Each Party to Repeat the Other’s Views.
This technique is how you practice active listening – by hearing the comments of the other person and repeating it back to them in a way that expresses you truly understand why they’re upset.
4. Share the Information You Received in an Objective Way.
Once you hear both sides of the argument and listen to each party repeat the counter’s grievances back to each other, make sure you repeat a summary of the overall conflict to the involved parties in a completely objective, unbiased way.
This will help both parties know that you fully understand the situation at hand.
5. Request That All Parties Involved Agree with Your Assessment.
Once you’ve repeated a summary of the situation back to the group, make sure all parties agree with the accurate depiction of your assessment of the situation.
This is vitally important to moving forward in a productive, effective way.
6. Share Your Ideas and Solutions as You Brainstorm and Request Feedback From All Parties.
When everyone has a thorough understanding of the situation at hand, it’s time to start brainstorming solutions.
Propose the solutions as they come to mind, and ask for feedback on the possibilities from the involved parties.
7. Ask Them to Review All Options and Agree on Next Steps of Implementing the Change.
Once you’ve delivered a full assessment of the situation and offered possible solutions, both parties need to consider the options and agree on one that will result in a positive outcome.
8. Encourage Them to Shake Hands.
It’s always a good idea to finish off successful resolutions with a strong, courteous handshake. Make sure both sides apologize and thank the other for coming to a resolution.
Conflict Resolution Strategies
Now that you know how to walk through the steps of conflict resolution, you should follow these strategies to make your methods highly effective.
Find Cause, Not Blame.
Placing blame is never a constructive practice.
Instead of placing blame on a specific person for the conflict, focus on finding the root of the cause. What kind of behavior lead to the problem? How can it be resolved?
Encourage Parties to Name Their Emotions Upfront.
Being able to identify exactly what people are feeling and why will help you find the root cause of the issue much, much more easily.
It leads to a greater understanding of the overall problem, how it came about, and why people react the way they do.
Stick to Behaviors, Not Personality Traits.
Don’t let anyone fall into the toxic trap of focusing on a specific individual’s personality traits as the problem. Instead, direct both parties to focus on a specific behavior that lead to dissatisfaction.
This creates a more unbiased, objective environment, and it ensures that nobody will feel personally attacked – an occurrence that can cause even greater conflict.
Request Both Parties Use “I” Statements.
It’s important to use “I” language instead of “you” language when discussing conflicts.
For example, instead of saying, “You didn’t finish you part of the project on time,” the person should say “I felt frustrated and stressed because I couldn’t complete my part of the project due to a lack of information.”
Focus on the Common Goal, Not Who’s Right or a Victor.
When it comes to conflict resolution, focusing on being the victor of the situation will get you nowhere. Steer the situation toward the pursuit of an overall goal, such as better communication or improved teamwork.
By working toward a common goal, you can eliminate the mindset for winners and losers and focus on how to make everyone happy with a mutually satisfactory solution.
Echo Emotions and Feelings to Each Party.
Once each party expresses their grievances, echoing back to them their side of the situation, how they feel, and why they feel the way they do will display that you have actively listened to their problems.
Follow Up With Everyone Involved.
Once the two parties shake hands, the conflict may not end there. You need to follow up and make sure that the chosen solution has been implemented in a satisfactory manner for both parties, so as to ensure that the dispute does not get kicked up again.
Conflict Resolution Scenarios and Examples
There are a wide variety of different conflict situations you can run into. We're going to run through just a few of the possibilities that may take place in work environments.
At an athletic apparel company, the marketing and sales are having a conflict over how a product is being positioned in the market for their target audience.
While the marketing team is gearing their yoga pants toward pregnant women, the sales team is focusing on yoga teachers.
The missed common goal is causing the company to lose potential customers and thus causing mounting tensions.
- Marketing and sales are having a dispute.
- Marketing is positioning yoga pants toward yoga teachers.
- Sales is positioning yoga pants for pregnant mothers.
- The inconsistency is causing lost potential customers.
The marketing and sales teams should sit down and discuss how they have each been presenting the product to the respective target audiences.
Then, they should come together to develop a unified, collaborative strategy to market toward both pregnant women and yoga teachers as specific niches of their greater target audience.
Susan had leftover lasagna for lunch, and she heated it up in the microwave in the office kitchen. Tomato sauce went all over the microwave and left a big mess, which Susan didn't clean up.
Henry, the next person to use the microwave, was annoyed by this. He didn't want to heat up his food in a messy microwave.
He left a passive aggressive note on the microwave that said, "If you're not going to clean it, don't use it!" and proceeded to avoid Susan for the rest of the day.
- Susan made a mess in the microwave, and didn't clean it up.
- The dirty microwave annoyed Henry.
- Henry left a passive aggressive note and avoided Susan.
Susan should always clean up after herself if her food makes a mess in the kitchen.
However, Henry should also directly address the issue at hand instead of leaving passive aggressive notes, and he should politely remind Susan to clean up after herself in case she forgets.
Management and Subordinate Conflict
Stacy works at a copywriting firm. Her manager, Monica, has assigned her editing tasks for the morning, and writing tasks for the afternoon.
This frustrates Stacy, because she writes better in the morning and enjoys the relaxation of editing in the afternoon.
However, Monica is a strong authoritarian figure who has asserted this schedule multiple times, making Stacy feel intimidated to ask for a change. The schedule is beginning to impact her productivity, and Monica has reprimanded her for this.
- Monica, Stacy's manager, has set a strict schedule for work tasks.
- This schedule is not ideal for Stacy's optimum working habits and productivity.
- The schedule has impacted Stacy's productivity.
- Monica has reprimanded Stacy for poor productivity.
Monica should try a more receptive leadership style so her team feels they can come to her with their opinions for better workflow. Meanwhile, Stacy should learn to voice what she needs to be able to do her work to her best abilities.
These are just a few of the possible situations that could take place when disputes arise.
There are plenty of other scenarios in which conflict may arise, such as gossip, discrimination disputes, performance review problems, and communication issues.
Conflict Resolution Training Resources
If you need more help with your strategies for conflict resolution, there are plenty of available resources for you to utilize.
MTI Survey of Organizational Conflict Management
MTI stands for Mediation Training Institute, so you know these guys know their stuff when it comes to conflict resolution.
Their Organizational Conflict Management Survey assesses your company’s current ability to resolve disputes, and is broken into four sub-strategies – detachment, evasion, collaboration, and coercion.
This resource will help you figure out what you’re already doing well and where you can improve.
MTI Guide: Managing Conflict Effectively
Once you’ve assessed how effective your company currently is at resolving disputes, MTI has another helpful resource for you – their guide for Managing Conflict Effectively.
This guide teaches you five strategies to help you manage conflict within your team and with your clients – understanding, exploring, communicating, re-engaging, and contemplating.
TCM Conflict Resolution Course
This is a two day training course that will walk you through the process of conflict resolution step by step, and it will also help you find the best management style to fit your unique strengths.
This course covers all the important base elements of the topic before branching into teaching you how to manage it, such as whether or not conflict is good or bad, what is mediation, and more.
National Conflict Resolution Center’s Training Institute Workshops
The National Conflict Resolution Center offers a few different workshops that can help you hone your communication and mediation skills for more effective dispute management.
Nip Conflict in the Bud
Even small conflicts can cause a large rift within your company and begin to breakdown productivity and workflow. It’s important to nip disputes in the bud before they get out of hand and cause serious issues within your business.
Developing strong conflict resolution skills will allow you to manage these situations in an effective manner to make for a happier team and an overall better company culture.