In a perfect world, all of your employees would agree on everything.
But let’s be real. This world is anything but perfect and your employees argue here and there.
As a manager, it's hard to watch your team bicker. However, another duty as a manager is to realize that this isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Not only is there a bright side to disagreements in the workplace, but they also provide an opportunity to educate your team on conflict management strategy.
What is a conflict management strategy?
A conflict management strategy refers to methods used to handle disputes. Choosing the right strategy is necessary for managing a conflict properly.
While disagreements can arise amongst any group of people, the workplace provides a lot more opportunities for people to butt heads.
Conflict management strategies in the workplace
Today’s workplaces are full of people from a variety of backgrounds. Goals, motivations, perspectives, skill levels, and values are bound to differ in a large group of people. And when people struggle to set those differences aside, conflicts arise.
Some workplace arguments will settle themselves, but don’t be surprised if your team gets into some heated disputes that call for a manager to intervene.
If you are a leader who struggles with conflict management, don’t fret. We asked other managers to share their thoughts on the best strategies for managing conflict in the office. Read on to check out their advice.
1. Be proactive in avoiding conflict
“Conflict can be avoided if systems are in place and expectations are managed with clarity. Setting ground rules can help in guiding the team in such a way that there is no conflict of interest. Setting up efficient communication channels may further help to avoid conflicts that arise due to a difference in understanding. Regular meetings, informal channels, like text chats, can help enable good communication.
If a conflict does arise, the most important skill that may come to the rescue is active listening. People engaged in conflict get less receptive to communication and that can impede their resolution efforts. Listening is a surefire way of getting the engaged parties to open up towards a resolution. Try to be fair while resolving a conflict. If one party believes that you are trying to cut the pie into unequal halves, they will make sure the problem isn’t resolved. That's very human.”
“Most conflict in the office stems from various team members having differing definitions of success in their head. When they each try to work down a path toward their vision, conflicts arise because they’re trying to create different outcomes. The way to heal this type of conflict is to ensure your team members are working from a shared vision of success.
Ask enough open-ended questions so as to draw out any hidden assumptions or ideas they hold as to the definition of project success, then discuss and prioritize their ideas. At the end of the conversation, it should be crystal clear as to what a successful project will look like. When they resume working, now towards a shared vision, their pathways will converge by nature. The longer they work toward the shared vision, the more in alignment they will get, no matter how far apart they were when they started.”
“When I was a business executive, our system was pretty straightforward. Sit all parties down in a private location, let them fully explain their viewpoint, propose a reasonable compromise as a manager, and get their buy-in for the solution.
A lot of times, people just want to feel heard. And often when they hear the other person's side of the story, that resolves the conflict. A very helpful phrase is, ‘I don't expect the two of you to be best friends but moving forward, I do expect you to be civil and work together.’ You'll be surprised how quickly new alliances form!”
“As a manager, you must communicate well to get to the bottom of it, while maintaining respect with your direct reports. First things first, as soon as you get wind of the conflict, set up a meeting with all involved. It's best to tackle this as soon as possible so the conflict doesn't spin out of control. Once you've set up a meeting with all relevant team members, open the floor up for honest and meaningful conversation.
Avoid words that assume blame and try to be an open listener so you can find the right solution. When it comes to resolving the issue, be super careful about the language you use when asking for more details or coming to a solution. Don't take sides, but rather come to a mutual solution that would be beneficial to both team members and the company.”
- Ciara Hautau, Lead Digital Marketing Strategist at Fueled
5. Tear down barriers, literally
“When my company started growing and more people started to join the team, it didn’t take more than a month to start experiencing conflicts between old and new team members.
I tried some mediation between them. I made them express their frustrations and organized some team lunches. Although it alleviated the situation, it didn’t fix it totally and the roots quickly gave birth to new conflicts.
I fixed it with a sledgehammer. One weekend I came to the office with a sledgehammer and knocked down the walls of several offices to create a wide open space. I installed a large table so that we can all work side by side. I purchased a few “private booths” for people to jump in and avoid the distraction of the open space. It stopped the miscommunication by making everything more transparent. It took us about two weeks to get used to it and we never experienced a conflict again.”
“There is no ideal team. Even the strongest team spirit is at risk of being destroyed. If a conflict does arise, team leaders should find the balance and have their own arsenal of solving solutions. Popular team building and problem-solving activities may help. For someone, they may look trivial and cheesy, however, I had several cases when they really worked. You may choose a simple team building game or sports, but mental problem-solving activities may be helpful in resolving internal conflict in the office.”
Take a page out of the books of these leaders in conflict management and apply it to the problems arising in your workplace. Maybe you need to take action to avoid the conflict in the first place. Maybe you need to re-evaluate your internal communication plan. Or maybe you need to physically open up your space. Consider your options and take action as a leader.
There are a lot of ways to manage conflict. Do you have a tactic for conflict management we didn’t mention? Join our network of contributors and reach more than one million visitors to the G2 Learn Hub by signing up for our program for content partnerships.
Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Specialist at G2 based in Burlington, Vermont, where she is currently exploring topics related to sales and customer relationship management. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. (she/her/hers)