How Leaders Can Successfully Manage Conflict At Work

Conflict is an unavoidable byproduct in any social environment; especially when you have people with different dispositions, behaviors and levels of emotional intelligence.  Whilst inescapable, disagreements can indeed be managed and used a learning tool to foster a healthy and productive atmosphere – this of course requires some skill and tact.

Contrary to popular belief, such proficiency can be coached. Individuals can be encouraged and equipped with the necessary ammo to consider differences as a necessary tool in their day-to-day professional (and personal) tool-kit. However, to get to this point, there are some things to consider when next a contentious situation arises.

It should also be noted that a work place without any conflicts may also be dysfunctional. As noted in Patrick Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team, 'teams that fear conflict often coneal weaknesses and mistakes from one another.' By doing so, this can create an environment where back channel politics and personal attacks thrive, and controversial topics that are critical to team success are ignored. If you think this may be a problem in your team, take our free 60 second self-assessment now.

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1) Problem Acknowledgement

In such emotionally charged situations, most people either disregard the other person’s point of view, or trivialize it. Either of these attitudes can be considered the oxygen that fuels conflict. In the opposite lane, fully recognizing that a problematic situation exists, by being clear and honest, is definitely the way the go. In so doing, you’re acquainting yourself with the reality at hand, and signaling to the other party that you’re open, non-defensive and willing to tackle the problem head-on.

2) Expression of Emotion

By acknowledging the pickled situation you’re in and being non-defensive, you give your contender the opportunity to express their feeling and emotions. This second step is crucial as it aids the journey towards real problem-solving: emotions (of all kind) should be expressed and acknowledged.

3) Problem Definition

Once the charged emotion has been diffused (thorough expression and acknowledgement), it then allows both parties to articulate what the problem is devoid of sentiment. The issue is looked at objectively: what is the cause of issue? What the impact on the individuals involved could be? What effect could it have on the task at hand? This can be executed by meeting with the participants separately to question them about the situation, and allow for the proposal of a remedy.

4) Solution Determination

The primary goal of resolving conflict is isn’t to establish who the right or wrong doer is - such approach does no good whatsoever and only instigates the problem – the aim is to get to a solution that both parties find palatable and can stomach in the long run.

In order to make this happen, place a laser-beam focus on the needs, as opposed to thesolutions – this is a top way of unearthing win/win type options. To determine the needs, you must find out why the parties want the solutions they outlined during the problem definition phase.

Once this comprehended, you (as the arbiter or senior level manager) would not only see the benefits inherent in their solutions, but the true understated needs.

Common Grounds

Once the needs of both parties are intimately understood, the next step is to find areas where there is common ground, irrespective of size. You can do this by:

  • Agreeing on the issue at hand
  • Agreeing on the commencing call to action(s)
  • Agreeing on worst fears
  • Agreeing on a/some level of compromise

Satisfactory Solutions

In order to establish resolutions that satisfy the needs of both parties, you would:

  • Ideate on a number of alternatives
  • Select which call-to-actions should be pursued
  • Ensure verbal consent between both parties on the intended course of action

Follow Up

This is another area wherein the conflict resolution falls short: no one follows up. Scheduling a follow-up meeting after some time is an important thing to do in order to determine how parties are doing, and also curbing any residual or new arising issues.

Side note: If the conflict still persists after a much-extended period of time, and the disagreement is poisoning the communal atmosphere of the office, seeking other drastic measures (such as including an external arbiter) to provide additional insights is strongly recommended.

The enumerated task might require some getting used to – it isn’t always easy dealing with and resolving conflict. But with any luck, these suggestions should provide an outline towards a resolution and harmony in your organisation.

*This post was originally published on The Coaching Room.

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James Hayes

James Hayes

Executives engage me to gain a depth of change in their lives; to get real clear on where and why they are reacting to the world, rather than responding from a place of choice. I help them find a softness in their leadership and management style so that they have nothing to prove and are able to demonstrate a fierce authenticity in their leadership.