Creative Approaches to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

When conflict happens in the workplace, it can be tempting to try to ignore it and hope it will blow over. The worst thing to do as a leader is to get caught up in the drama around you and add your own emotional reactions to the mix. It’s a better idea to work on finding creative approaches to conflict resolution in the workplace.

Workplace conflict is a breakdown in communication between two or more individuals or sometimes between teams. Regardless of who is in the middle of the conflict, it’s affecting others on the team, and this leads to decreased productivity and low morale. Leaders need to continually work on their conflict resolution skills and be prepared to handle conflicts when they arise.

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Listen and Validate

Each of the conflicting parties has their own version of what caused the dispute and why they are having difficulty working it out. Managers should meet with those in dispute and listen to both sides. It’s better to meet with them together rather than separately because separate meetings may end up giving the impression that the manager is choosing sides.

Both parties want to have their perspective validated. Each should be allowed to express their views without interrupting each other and to feel heard. The focus needs to stay on issues not personalities.

Brainstorming Solutions

Encourage both parties to actively participate in brainstorming solutions. Most if not all challenges have more than one solution. Brainstorm multiple alternatives. Is it possible to find a win/win solution, meaning a way for both parties to get at least part of what they want? Sometimes disputes happen because individuals misinterpret what the other is looking for.

In some cases, both parties have become so emotional that neither can think clearly and neither is paying attention to what the other is saying. They’ll need to begin working on actively listening to each other. Note-taking and repeating back to each other what they have heard are good ways to open the door to communication. See if there’s a way to use humor to relieve tension and promote collaboration.

Different conflicts require different approaches. Effective leaders keep trying different strategies until an acceptable conflict resolution is found. When conflicts happen, it’s important to look for a way to turn challenges into opportunities.

Improving Conflict Resolution Skills

Leaders need to continually work to sharpen and improve their ability to settle disagreements. Conflict resolution training is a way to improve the skills needed to work through conflicts when they happen. Communication training workshops and working with a coach can help improve skills such as de-escalation strategies and mediation techniques.

Mastering conflict resolution skills is done on an ongoing basis. New conflicts arise at different times and often when least expected. Each presents new challenges and new opportunities for growth and awareness.

When Solutions Aren’t Emerging

There are times when communication has broken down to a point where the people in dispute refuse to work together to find solutions. When internal efforts at collaboration are not working, professional dispute mediation may be the best solution to settle differences before they escalate further.

Before setting ultimatums such as taking disciplinary action, consider professional mediation. Skilled mediators are a third party that can be completely objective and are specially trained to help those in dispute find a mutually acceptable solution.

When conflicts are not well managed, there’s less teamwork and less commitment to productivity. Successfully managed conflict can restore a peaceful working atmosphere and have a positive effect on the whole staff.

Learn more about how to manage workplace conflict by contacting Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.

Valerie Dansereau

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