How The Best Leaders Manage Conflict At Work
How to manage conflict at work? What distinguishes the best leaders from the rest when dealing with conflict? Are there best practices and useful tips to manage conflict the right way?
Leaders must deal with conflict management on a daily basis.
ImportantConflict management is defined as the ability to identify and handle conflicts efficiently and fairly. It is important for leaders to remember to deal with the situation and be tempted to become involved in nonrelated issues.
Leadership is not a popularity contest.
It is a serious responsibility that primarily involves developing and guiding the full potential in people, teams and the organization at-large. An important part in the process of developing potential is knowing how to see conflict and when to seize the opportunity within the conflict before healthy tension turns into overly disruptive chaos.
Leaders must ensure they continuously communicate with their team as well as articulate a vision.
WarningThe impact of conflict in the workplace can result in a disruption of the effectiveness of employees and slow the achievement of organizational goals.
Conflict is inevitable. Therefore, as a leader, you should always make enough time for conflict resolution.
By diffusing or dealing with conflict among team members, you can significantly enhance workplace morale — and boost individual and team productivity.
Resolving workplace conflict is an integral part of being a leader. Leaders have to diagnose workplace problems and formulate strategies to alleviate these issues.
So what can leaders do to manage conflict in the workplace? How can you help improve the situation and resolve conflict? The following guidelines can help you to boost your confidence as a leader, especially when you’ve to face conflicts.
Know Your Boundaries
Establishing and maintaining professional boundaries helps to prevent workplace conflict. Although some may want to do as much as they can to help their employees, it can be taken in the wrong way.
Avoid doing favors as not to promote favoritism in the workplace or a jealous environment.
WarningIt might be tempting to take sides in a conflict between team members, but as a leader, you need to be Switzerland. Notice if certain situations or responses push your own buttons, and try to keep personal biases out of the equation.
Setting clear boundaries helps to maintain good productivity and social dynamics in the workplace.
Without boundaries, there are no firm guidelines for workplace behavior. You may need to create a set of guidelines for your own team if you overhear unkind remarks or witness any hint of workplace bullying.
Start by creating an atmosphere of openness, constructive criticism, and problem solving. You want your colleagues to understand that you are focused on the future, not the past — and that you are optimistic things will work out.
Conflict can become something much more unmanageable if you don’t know the limitations and boundaries of your employees.
ImportantHelp others know when they tend to cross the line; identify behavioral tendencies that seem to trigger certain attitudes, provoke mindset shifts, or demonstrate a lack of self-awareness. This can be accomplished with consistent coaching sessions where you can begin to set precedence and reinforce performance expectations for each of your employees.
Leaders who actively engage in coaching and learning about those on his/her team will find themselves dealing with much less conflict.
Emotional intelligence and self-awareness are crucial to managing workplace conflict as awareness allows leaders to see exactly what is needed from them to solve the problem. Not only will they learn to process questions, they will also learn how to see the bigger picture and new ways to fix ongoing issues.
Know When To Intervene
Timing is everything when it comes to managing conflict, and the best time to take action is when there is hard evidence/proof that an employee has a track record of wrongdoing that is negatively impacting the performance of others.
People often create unnecessary conflict. Leaders who avoid conflict at all cost will find themselves regretting it later.
WarningIgnoring the issues may save someone’s feelings in the short run, but don’t forget that these conflicting team members will have to work with each other again on future projects. If the unresolved issues continue to arise, the built-up resentment may eventually explode in nasty fights and arguments.
Give employees the opportunity to work it out themselves.
If any issues do get out of hand, that’s when a manager should step in. Don’t involve yourself in the problem, rather act as a middleman to help diffuse the issue.
Sometimes co-workers are unable to settle conflicts on their own. Let them know that you are available as a sounding board, and that they are welcome to set up a meeting with you as mediator.
Few people naturally possess the disposition, attitudes, self-control, and skills that lead to effective conflict resolution.
ImportantMost people need to learn new ways of communicating, thinking, and acting when confronted with a conflict situation. Business leaders who invest their time and effort to help their team members develop these skills can recover much of the lost time and productivity caused by unresolved conflicts.
How you deal with adversity may make or break you, but more than anything it will ultimately reveal you.
Conflict can bring out the worst in us so one of the key things you need to maintain when it is time to manage team conflict is civility and basic respect. Make sure you do not entertain destructive behaviours like pointing fingers, throwing insults, setting ultimatums and backbiting.
Clear The Path
Workplace conflict can arise quickly from poor communication skills. When employees or a boss can’t express their points clearly, a lot is left open for interpretation or taken out of context. Then, it doesn’t take too long for assumptions to be made and conclusions to be drawn.
Diagnosis of the conflict begins with a thorough assessment of the situation.
ImportantTo resolve workplace conflict, clear and concise communication should be established, especially when it comes to what is to be expected from each person.
Conflict isn’t always easy to measure. By having a clear understanding of the conflict, leaders can identify how to measure the impact effectively.
It is critical for leadership to frame the organizational conflict, including the multiple dimensions of conflict. Unmanaged conflict causes quantifiable and non quantifiable costs.
It is helpful to understand the “conflict ladder,” i.e., the levels of conflict. As summarized by Thomas Jordan, conflict has several levels: disagreement, polarized positions, barriers to communication, tactics, no contact, conflict creates strategic threat, unprofessional blows, destruction, and conflict abyss.
Allow each conflicting team member to voice their opinions on the conflict and be heard without interruption and listen actively.
ImportantPay attention, ask questions for more elaboration and make sure to avoid jumping to conclusions. Allowing each conflicting team member to elucidate their stance eliminates the problem of miscommunication and allows them to rationalize their opinions.
It’s helpful to imagine what your colleagues are thinking and feeling. Do not assume you understand all the facts.
WarningSetting aside your assumptions, what questions will you ask to understand others’ perspectives and to confirm or disconfirm your hypothesis? As they answer, acknowledge when you understand by rephrasing, restating, or summarizing, and ask for examples to clarify the issues when you don’t.
Rather than impose your influence, hierarchy or rank — respect the unique differences in people and learn to see things from differing points of view so you can better understand how to avoid conflict in the future.
Conflict resolution is rarely black and white.
In fact, there are more and more grey areas these days as the workplace becomes more generationally and culturally diverse than ever before. Respecting differences in people can help you better understand how to manage conflict with people in general.
Having opposing views within the workplace can be beneficial, but sometimes difficult to work past.
ImportantDon’t react in a hostile way. Instead, try to better understand each other by asking questions and learning the other person’s point of view.
Think of it as a conversation and not an argument.
Showing people respect, regardless of their point of view, will go a long way in building a culture where employees feel comfortable expressing opinions or making suggestions.
Collaborating works to find a ‘win-win’ solution where all parties reach their objectives.
WarningIt takes a great deal of time and skill to assess the needs (not wants) of each party and come together to form a brand new idea. Collaborating is considered the best style to address the task needs and preserve relationships.
Coworkers may feel the need to agree with each other because they fear losing a friendship. By breaking up these existing alliances when discussing the resolution, you can avoid this behavior and allow each team member to view the conflict free of the persuasion of their friendships, be it implicit or explicit.
Common sense tells us that we are most comfortable dealing with those we trust and naturally gravitate towards.
ImportantAs leaders, we must see that each employee represents a unique opportunity for professional growth and development. Let’s face it, business is all about people intelligence, and until we accept this fact, we will continue to unknowingly create tension with those employees we are not comfortable with — and undervalue their contributions in the process.
Placing blame on someone only creates more tension and heightens the conflict. Remember, this is not a fight. There is no winner.
One of the most common mistakes that happen when attempting to resolve conflict is playing the blame game. Individuals often point fingers and target the other to try to make their claim. Avoid this at all costs.
Acknowledge The Conflict
The conflict has to be acknowledged before it can be managed and resolved. The tendency is for people to ignore the first signs of conflict, perhaps as it seems trivial, or is difficult to differentiate from the normal, healthy debate that teams can thrive on.
Honesty and clear communication play an important role in the resolution process.
ImportantAcquaint yourself with what’s happening and be open about the problem. Once you recognize the issue, you can start the process of resolution.
Conflicts continue to fester when ignored.
Because conflicts involve perceived threats to our well-being and survival, they stay with us until we face and resolve them. When you can recognize conflicting needs and are willing to examine them with understanding, it can lead to creative problem solving, team building, and stronger relationships.
Avoid anger buildups by facing the conflict head-on and encouraging team members to let each other know when they disagree with another team member’s course of action. While not always pleasant, getting these small disagreements out in the open can help avoid bigger disputes.
The conflict has to be acknowledged before it can be managed and resolved.
WarningThe tendency is for people to ignore the first signs of conflict, perhaps as it seems trivial, or is difficult to differentiate from the normal, healthy debate that teams can thrive on. If you are concerned about the conflict in your team, discuss it asap with other members.
Leadership is about anticipating the unexpected. Don’t complicate matters.
ImportantTrust yourself enough to take action. Adversity is very big when it is all you can see. But it is very small when in the presence of all else that surrounds you.
Asking questions helps you preserve your neutrality. Questions are also effective in getting others to pause, reflect, and get clear with themselves about what the problem actually is.
Good questions beat perfect statements every time.
Having an arsenal of good questions handy helps you quickly get into the role of mediator. Once you get people talking about the issue, they’ll be more able to see their own way through to a solution.
By asking questions, you maintain an objective position outside the issue, while helping those involved to come to resolution.
WarningThe problem is that most managers don’t have the skills needed to properly mediate. They lack confidence in addressing problems head-on, and too often make matters worse by ignoring the issue, taking sides, or dictating the solution.
To effectively support constructive resolution of conflict requires a commitment to the use of creativity-generating questions. This means the use of genuinely ‘open’ questions to draw out from those presently experiencing a destructive outcome in their conflict their own ideas for ways forward . It also means avoiding the use of questions with an ‘agenda’ otherwise known as leading questions.
What would it take for us to be able to move forward? How do we get there?
ImportantThese questions help an employee describe specific steps that may include an apology or a better understanding of his perspective before he can get over it.
What about this situation is most troubling to you? What’s most important to you?
Either way you ask it, this question helps you pinpoint what the real issues are (and they’re almost always based on a core value being dismissed, disregarded, or trampled on).
What ideas do you have that would meet both our needs?
The key part of this question is “both our needs.” It puts the onus for solution on both of you and shows that you’re interested in creating a remedy that isn’t just about you.
In addition to emotional and social intelligence, self and social awareness are critical to effectively assessing the situation and selecting the most aligned conflict management approach.
Compromising is sometimes the only thing that will allow things to move forward.
ImportantFind key takeaways from the issue and figure out how to best move forward. Collaborate on finding a solution that will be best for all individuals involved. Identify potential points of mutual agreement and areas of disagreement. This is the first step in arriving at a solution.
Obliging places a high value on others but a low value on self, perhaps reflecting an individual’s low self-esteem.
It’s also a strategy that can be used to deliberately elevate another person, making them feel better about an issue. This style is useful if a manager is unsure of a position or fears a mistake has been made.
When your team come to a final resolution, make it a point to write a list of actionable steps that can be taken to resolve the issue. Putting the conclusion down on paper makes the solution more tangible and creates a reference point for people that wish to review the team’s decision on that conflict.
Dominating resolves conflict by directing the other party to accept his/her position.
It is used when the outcome is more important than the relationship. s a leader, this tactic is best used when resolving conflict where budget, safety, and due process are determining factors.
Avoiding choses to avoid conflict rather than face it directly.
WarningIt is best used when the issue is trivial, and the outcome and relationship are not important. Weekly meeting with a group of peers that engage in catch up and chit chat is a conflict worth avoiding.
Conflict management is an ongoing job duty of a leader. Developing skills in managing conflict in the workplace through self-awareness, communication, respect, and appreciation for others skill set are important aspects of the leader’s role in ensuring conflict is managed and organizational goals are prioritized.
Conflict resolution is about seeing opportunities that others don’t see.
ImportantWhen dealing with conflict resolution through a lens of opportunity, conflict can be a healthy enabler of growth for your business — and professional growth for all of the people involved.
Conflict can be constructive as long as it is managed and dealt with directly and quickly.
By respecting the differences between people, being able to manage team conflict when it does happen, and also proactively preventing it, you will be able to maintain a healthy and creative team atmosphere.
The key for leaders looking to manage team conflict is to remain open to other people’s ideas, beliefs, and assumptions.
WarningConflict should be embraced and dealt with — not just to resolve a possible problem or to detect an opportunity — but as a moment to learn about your own leadership maturity as you lead others through adverse circumstances.
Your job is to constructively address conflict so employees can stay focused on their work.
ImportantYour effectiveness as a leader is partly judged by your ability to address and resolve issues, so it’s important to keep this mediation skill sharp.
Welcome and respect each other’s views and take it as a learning opportunity to better prepare yourself and your employees for any other conflicts that may arise in the future. If you enjoyed the article or have any comments, recommendations, or tips for improvement please do comment below.