Managing Conflict in the Workplace

How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace Respectfully

If you manage a group of people — any group of people — you will eventually run into a conflict. But that’s not always a bad thing. In many cases, conflicts can be useful. Diversity of opinion is often needed for growth and innovation. 

But sometimes, diverse opinions can lead to arguments. If you don’t work quickly to resolve arguments before they turn into full-blown conflicts, you can inadvertently create a toxic work environment. Lingering conflicts and the resulting bitterness is like a poison that can cripple team productivity and kill morale. It’s up to you to ensure that your team recovers from conflicts and stays on the course towards hitting your shared goals.

Let’s discuss how to manage workplace conflict.

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The 3 Types of Conflict in the Workplace

First, let’s take a look at the most common types of conflict you’ll encounter in a team dynamic. 

1. Task-Related

In a task-related conflict, team members may disagree about how to complete a task. Or they may have a conflict about who is responsible for what. To avoid task-related conflicts, it’s essential to designate clear roles for each member at the start of a project. This ensures maximum accountability and reduces confusion about roles. However, even if you do clarify assignments, it’s still possible for conflicts to arise around delegation, performance, and workload.

2. Relationship

Sometimes, personalities clash. Two team members may have completely opposite ways of doing their tasks and this can spill over into the way they interact with each other. A team member may communicate in a way that can be interpreted as rude or belittling. Or a team member may not speak up when they feel attacked, choosing rather to quietly disengage instead of confront. But this passive response can negatively impact productivity not just for the individual but for their entire team. 

3. Leadership Style

There are many different leadership styles. Some leaders prefer to be more hands-on while others are more relaxed. Some leaders want their teams to follow a traditional, tried, and true set of rules while other leaders are open to unconventional methods as long as they get results. Your leadership style may come in conflict with one or more members of your team. It’s crucial for you to find a way to successfully work together with every member of your team, which often means adjusting your leadership style to the individual needs of your team.

How to Resolve Conflicts in Your Workplace

Let’s take a look at what you can do to successfully resolve conflicts that may arise in your workplace.

If you don't work quickly to resolve arguments before they turn into full-blown conflicts, you can inadvertently create a toxic work environment. Share on X

Spot the Telltale Signs of Workplace Conflict

Before matters may escalate to you, there will be signs that trouble is brewing. For example, you may notice a drop in productivity, a change in behavior, or an increase in employee turnover. 

These signs can happen suddenly or slowly over the course of several months or longer. However, if you notice these shifts in your workplace, it’s a sign that there may be conflict that you’re not yet aware of. 

It’s essential to regularly check for signs that your employees are unhappy because this can indicate unresolved conflict amongst your team. Look for new signs such as

  • Absenteeism
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Lack of effort
  • Decreased engagement
  • Missing deadlines
  • Negative behavior
  • Clock-watching

Assume Positive Intent

As the team leader, it’s important that you assume that your team members are doing their best. In other words, give your team members the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re working to benefit the team and not harm it. This leadership attitude can go a long way toward establishing a healthy environment in your workplace. Your team members are less likely to be defensive when they know you will take a supportive and cooperative tone. You can gain your team member’s trust by withholding blame and assuming positive intent at the beginning of a conflict.

Identify the Cause of the Conflict

Before you can resolve the conflict, it’s important to identify the origin of the issue. Ask questions from all parties involved to help you understand the issue. Don’t assume that you know because you could be overlooking a crucial factor. And, if you attempt to mediate the issue, you’ll need to be armed with the facts.

Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Speak to Each Team Member Individually

Instead of leading a group discussion to get to the bottom of the conflict, consider reaching out to each involved team member individually. Have a private one-on-one conversation with them to understand the conflict from their perspective. 

It’s important to talk privately for several reasons: 

First, it allows you to build trust with the team member. Many people are reluctant to open up in front of a group. Those who are willing to speak candidly in front of their peers may unintentionally feed off of the energy of others in the room, which can lead to heightened emotionalism. 

Second, the one-on-one approach creates a sense of intimacy. By talking to each team member individually, you give them the opportunity and permission to share their concerns with you in a safe space.

Third, you have the chance to better analyze the information without feeling pressured to share your response. In a group dynamic, it’s difficult to simply gather facts because the group often pushes you to take a stance.

When you speak to your team members individually, you don’t have to take sides. You can simply listen.

Also, be sure to listen actively. Don’t make up your mind about what happened without listening to all parties first. Give each person the chance to share their views. And don’t interrupt them as they’re speaking. This will show that you’re sincerely interested in understanding each person’s perspective.

Devise a Plan

Once you’re sure that you understand what the problem is from each affected team member’s perspective, it’s time to devise a plan to help your team move beyond the conflict. This plan may be to reimagine roles or shift responsibilities. Decide which option will work best at getting your team back on track. 

You may discover more than one option. If so, consider putting it up for a vote. Ask your team which of these workable solutions would work best for them. The vote can also be made anonymous by using a survey builder like Survey Monkey.

​​Identify the Common Ground

There are many reasons why people come into conflict on a team. But, if you try, you can probably find common ground most of the time. People may have different methods for reaching the same goal, and that’s okay, as long as it gets reached. Help your team understand that they can work together even if they don’t work in the same way.

Look for Solutions Where Everyone Can Win

Instead of looking for ways to compromise, look for ways that everyone can win. How can you create a win-win situation? Understand what each person in the conflict will need to have in order to move forward and find a solution that will work for all parties without stepping on anyone’s toes.

Final Thoughts

Conflict resolution in the workplace is inevitable. When you come across conflicts within your team, be sure to implement the above steps and do so quickly. By quickly identifying and understanding what each person needs to feel validated, you can successfully defuse any potentially explosive situations in your workplace.

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