Managing conflict in the workplace

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Conflict in the workplace can be hard to avoid.  

Left unchecked, the different goals and working styles of individuals in the workplace can lead to conflict or disagreement. And here in Christchurch, more than a few of us can admit to still experiencing ‘jangled nerves’ as we negotiate our personal journeys through the quakes, and all the stressors that have followed (you know what we’re talking about – insurance hassles and traffic cones etc!)  

But there is a way through! We’ve collated some useful tips from a range of sources to help managers tackle conflict in the workplace: 

  • Realise that conflict in the workplace can be inevitable. Wherever people are engaged and committed, conflict is bound to happen. Particularly at times of change. When it happens it’s not the end of the world, but an opportunity to learn. A note though, unresolved long-term conflict is another thing altogether and carries a risk of harm. 
  • Confront it. Handle conflict sooner rather than later. If a conflict does flair up, you can likely lessen the impact of it by dealing with it quickly. It’s better to take action early. Identifying and understanding natural tensions ahead of time will also help to avoid unnecessary conflict. 
  • Define acceptable behaviour. This is about everyone having clearly defined roles and knowing what is expected of them. It’s also a good idea to make it known publicly what will and won't be tolerated in the workplace. 
  • Conflict as opportunity. Every conflict conceals the opportunity for teaching and learning. It may seem ironic, but a well-managed conflict situation can build a stronger team and brings the potential for growth, innovation and development. Clever leaders look for the upside in all differing opinions. 
  • Understand people’s motivations. Knowing where people are coming from and what their goals and motivations are helps managers get to the bottom of workplace issues.  
  • Get mediation. Bringing in a third party can sometimes help with sticky situations. The mediator can be a manager, HR employee, a business coach or even a co-worker. 

Communication is key 

This of course brings us to the final tip – it’s all about communication. Good communication on a personal and organisational level can cut off so many issues at the pass. Communication failures are often at the core of conflict situations. As a leader, its important to learn how to set aside your emotions and move through it.  

And if your management style is to bury your head in the sand… you may have noticed it gets dark in there! 

Leadership and conflict  

According to Forbes magazine, leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand.  

“Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, you should not be in a leadership role…. issues surrounding conflict resolution can be best summed-up by adhering to the following ethos; ”Don't fear conflict; embrace it - it's your job.” 

More articles on resolving workplace conflict: 

Take a look at our articles, How to be a better listener and How to build a great team for more tips on improving workplace culture.