Skip to main content

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable, but leaders and managers can take steps to address it effectively. Causes of conflict include personality differences, poor communication, and misunderstandings of goals and responsibilities. There are ways to help prevent conflict in the workplace, but it is unlikely that you will be able to stop it entirely. Therefore, it’s essential that you are aware of and can implement strategies for resolving conflict when it occurs.

Here are six strategies for resolving conflict at work:

1. Take decisive action

It’s natural for people to want to avoid conflict, but it’s not always possible. And, if you’re a leader or manager, resolving conflict is a part of your job. Therefore, it is an invaluable interpersonal skill for leaders and managers to develop.

One of the key strategies for resolving conflict swiftly and efficiently is to take decisive action.

You can’t ignore conflicts – or hope they go away on their own – because they’re usually not going anywhere.

We know conflicts can continue and even escalate unless action is taken, so nip any issues in the bud by dealing with them immediately. That way, you can prevent an issue from becoming a huge problem.

And remember that although conflict resolution may not always be enjoyable for managers, it represents a window of opportunity that could lead to positive results. For details on how conflict can be good, check out our article 3 Reasons Why Leaders Shouldn’t Shy Away from Conflict.

Resolve the conflict sign

2. Choose the right location

When people are in conflict, it’s often because they’re not communicating effectively. This can be made worse when they are feeling stressed or under attack. Therefore, choosing the best location to speak with the individual parties is crucial for resolving conflict.

It may sound simple, even obvious, but it’s surprising how many people don’t take the time to consider the best location. Furthermore, choosing the wrong place can escalate the conflict further.

Pick a neutral location, such as a conference room or a coffee shop. Ensure it is private enough so that the conversation won’t be overheard. You may also want to consider who can see you.

Many of our clients have meeting rooms with glass walls. Although passers-by can’t hear what is being discussed inside the room, the fact that they can be seen while sitting in the meeting can make some people uncomfortable and the conversation less effective.

When selecting the right location, the aim is to create an atmosphere where an honest conversation about the issues, peoples’ feelings and perspectives can take place without anyone feeling like they’re being attacked or judged.

The more relaxed the environment, the more people can take their time to fully explain their views and listen carefully to what the other person has to say without interruption or distraction.

3. Listen actively

Using active listening skills while demonstrating empathy and compassion will reassure the speaker that you are interested in what they have to say and want to support them. They are more likely to open up if they feel reassured, enabling you to investigate and understand the conflict thoroughly.

Show that you are actively listening by maintaining eye contact and using other non-verbal communication, such as a nod of the head.

Paraphrase what the speaker had said and ask questions to check your understanding throughout the conversation. Doing so will help you identify key points that need further exploration before you probe deeper into the conflict.

Avoid doing anything that could be interpreted as being dismissive of peoples’ feelings or concerns – for example, checking your mobile phone or interrupting them.

As a manager, it is essential to avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Listen without judgement and adopt a positive approach to encourage openness and honesty from everyone involved.

For more details on showing compassion when resolving conflict or being involved in any difficult conversation, check out our article, 5 Steps for Practicing Compassionate Leadership.

Two people actively listening to resolve conflict

4. Take time to understand the issues fully

One of the most vital strategies for resolving conflict is collecting your thoughts after the initial conversation and taking time to reflect. Having a brief pause in the process is another crucial step. When we are in the heat of the moment, our emotions can cloud our judgment and make it challenging to communicate effectively.

Taking some time before discussing potential solutions allows the parties to process what just happened and how they feel about it and weigh all the options before making any decisions.

You can also use this time to reflect on the steps taken and outcomes achieved so far. Ask yourself whether you have all the necessary information. Or do you need to clarify some points or carry out further investigations?

Ensure you are satisfied that you are dealing with the root cause of the conflict. As with any, if you don’t identify and resolve the root cause of the issue, any action you take is like putting a band-aid on the problem.

If the leading cause of the conflict is not resolved, the conflict or some other form of negativity will likely return, and you will have to start all over again. On top of the additional work for you, there could be untold damage to employee morale and productivity.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you identify the root cause. And don’t solely rely on your own judgement; ask the parties involved in the conflict what other factors they feel may have caused or contributed to the issue. It’s incredible how much insight can be gained from asking this simple question when managing conflict.

5. Find the right solution

When resolving conflict, the aim is to find a solution all parties are happy with or at least are agreeable to.

An essential step in getting to this stage is by you acting as a facilitator rather than a rescuer. Encouraging the parties to work together to find some common ground and finding a conflict resolution everyone can agree to.

Where parties generate ideas and reach an agreement themselves, conflict resolution is often more successful and leads to improved relationships in the future.

As a manager, avoid making suggestions at the outset, as it can disempower the parties or cause them to feel obliged to choose an option you’ve suggested merely because you are in a position of authority (also known as authority bias).

If the parties struggle to come up with potential solutions, use different questioning techniques to help them think about the problem from different angles.

In the event of a stalemate, and you need to make some suggestions, introduce more than one potential option without indicating which you feel would be most appropriate. Instead, allow the parties to discuss the merits of each and make the decision.

Using this approach will enable them to feel more empowered, reduce the risk of authority bias, and be more likely to attempt to resolve issues themselves.

6. Continuous self-reflection and evaluation

Managing conflict is unlikely to be enjoyable. However, by continually developing your conflict resolution skills, you will feel more confident in tackling conflict issues in the future.

To become more confident and skilled in managing and resolving conflicts, reflecting on how the conflict arose, how a resolution was reached, and the solution implemented is crucial.

Learning from experiences through this type of self-reflection will enable you to develop strategies for dealing with similar situations in the future and help you identify ways that you can prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Our article Conflict in the Workplace: Causes & Prevention provides insight into how conflicts arise in the first place and steps you can take to help prevent conflict.

Ultimately, conflicts arise in the workplace, but implementing these strategies for resolving conflict will improve communication and understanding among colleagues, increase productivity and create a positive work environment.

Also, remember that resolving conflict can be a window of opportunity for positive results. Engaging in positive conflict is where some of our most creative and innovative ideas come from.

If you’re struggling with conflict in the workplace, we can help. We offer various services, including DISC personality profiling to help teams better understand and appreciate one another; one-to-one and group coaching; short training courses; and leadership development programmes.

If you have questions regarding these services or want to discuss your specific requirements, you can contact us or book a free discovery call. We’d love to hear from you.

Published 13th June 2022.