A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Conflict Management in the Workplace

November 25, 2022by Valerie Dansereau

The ability to manage conflict is a skill you need sooner or later in any leadership role. If you’re new to leadership or you simply haven’t had to deal with conflict up to now, being proactive about understanding conflict management in the workplace is a good way to make it easier to deal with conflict whenever it happens.

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The Many Causes of Conflict

The larger your office or department is, the more people may clash just because they have to work together every day. Often a large staff can be a melting pot of sorts resulting in a combination of people from diverse backgrounds that have a hard time understanding each other. Some of the many possible causes of conflict include:

  • Different workstyles
  • Miscommunication and misunderstanding
  • Limited resources
  • Lack of clearly defined roles
  • Poor leadership

People often blame “personality clash” when they have difficulty getting along. Usually there’s something going on underneath that’s triggering conflict, such as age difference or a different approach to meeting deadlines.

Should You Get Involved?

If you’re not used to dealing with conflict, you may have a hard time figuring out when to get involved. Minor bickering is probably going to work itself out, but if there’s outright screaming or open hostility going on, ignoring it isn’t an option. Loud arguing or even just a refusal to work together can make it an unpleasant environment, and you can be sure that other people are distracted and productivity is suffering.

The best thing to do is to schedule a meeting with the individuals that are in conflict. Lay some ground rules that each of them is to state how they see the problem and they’re each to have a chance to speak uninterrupted. Emotional outbursts aren’t allowed while you work together to define the problem and brainstorm possible solutions that might work for everyone concerned.

Practice Active Listening

When meeting with people in conflict, it’s important to give them your full attention. Make eye contact with whoever is speaking and ask questions to encourage them to give more details. A good way to be sure you’re hearing exactly what they’re trying to communicate is by repeating back to each of the participants what you have heard them say. Give them a chance to correct you if they feel you misunderstood or missed something important. Some people find it helpful to take notes when practicing active listening.

Managing Your Own Emotions

It’s easy to get caught up in negative emotions when trying to resolve conflict in the workplace. You may feel a range of emotions from annoyance to anger, but it’s important to control your own emotional reactions, especially when you’re in a leadership role. Allowing negative emotions to surface can cloud your judgment and can make it difficult for staff to look up to you. Work on projecting a calm and positive demeanor, and avoid the appearance of taking sides, even if it seems obvious to you that one person is right and the other is wrong. Your job is to act as a mediator, not necessarily to decide on the solution.

Recognizing When You Need Help

As you work to get better at understanding conflict management in the workplace, you may find yourself faced with situations that you can’t solve. Employees may be uncooperative or accuse you of not being impartial, or one may be accusing the other of bullying or harassment. It’s important to recognize when you need help, either from your HR department or from an outside company that specializes in conflict resolution.

Reach out to Pollack Peacebuilding Systems if you need conflict resolution services or to learn more about conflict coaching and training.


Valerie Dansereau

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