Career Development

Conflict Resolution Strategies for the Workplace

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Conflict resolution techniques in the workplace, while sometimes overlooked, are necessary to settle disagreements and promote harmonious idea-sharing among colleagues. How to settle conflicts may depend on the type of conflict as well as the individuals involved in the disagreement, thus being prepared to handle conflict is everyone’s job. Learning and using the basic techniques outlined in this article is a step toward successful decompression of a stressful situation and can lead to a higher productivity rate in the office.

What is conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is the process of resolving conflict or disputes in the workplace. Conflict resolution is used to solve disagreements at home, in group situations and even among world leaders. In many cases, people tend to handle conflict in different ways.

Resolving conflicts effectively brings everyone involved together to a common standpoint, or at least a common understanding for the purpose of reaching a satisfactory resolution. It’s crucial to keep the lines of communication open, honest and respectful at all times in order for conflict resolution to truly be effective. Additionally, each team member must be open to a mutually agreeable resolution. 

Common conflict reactions

Here are some conflict resolution strategies that you can follow to reach a peaceful resolution:

Avoidance

Avoidance is simply walking away from conflict and ignoring the situation rather than discussing it further. There are different reasons someone might take this path, but regardless, there is usually a more viable solution to maintain harmony at work. 

Competition

When working with a team, efforts should be collaborative, so a competitive mindset toward conflict could easily become ineffective when facing a real obstacle. To avoid causing a rift in the team, the competitive person is sometimes willing to agree to a compromise, which may be the best possible outcome in certain situations.

Accommodation

Some employees may be the accommodating type, meaning that while they will voice their opinion if they have one, they’re likely to allow someone else to make decisions in an effort to keep the peace. This is a passive behavior and it can stifle diverse viewpoints, but fortunately, accommodators will usually agree to collaborate on a solution that suits everyone.

Compromise

Compromise attempts to reach a solution everyone deems fair. The team works together to reach the solution, each sacrificing a little for the sake of agreement. While a compromised solution isn’t always the most effective, sometimes it is the best outcome to hope for. 

Collaboration

Collaboration allows each person to state their input while considering that of their team members to reach a cooperative end result. Collaborating to reach a common goal can strengthen the bonds between team members and make working together easier. Collaboration isn’t necessarily suitable in every situation, but it’s often the best strategy for workplace conflict resolution.

How to resolve conflict in the workplace

Here are some steps you can follow to identify and resolve conflict before it becomes a problem:

1. First, acknowledge the conflict

Conflict doesn’t usually disappear when ignored, so by recognizing an uncomfortable situation right away, you can prevent negative feelings from forming between coworkers. 

As a manager, if you notice conflict arising between employees, try to allow them to work it out, only stepping in when asked or when the conflict begins to adversely affect the working environment. At that point, address the problem in private with the involved parties.

2. Next, talk through the problem

Schedule a meeting at a mutually convenient time to talk without interruption. Allow each person to present their case, gently keeping them on the subject at hand as needed. 

Each person deserves equal time to speak without interruption. If they’re having trouble articulating how they feel, try asking non-leading questions such as ‘Which part of this situation is making you feel this way?’ but recognize that many people simply need a moment to gather their thoughts before proceeding. Make it clear that you are not blaming anyone and are simply focused on solving the problem.

3. Then, actively listen

Active listening is crucial to understand the speaker’s message. Active listening is not reactionary, but if you really want to respond to a certain point, jot down a quick note to circle back to it after the person is done talking. 

Ask questions to clarify your understanding of the argument. Sometimes it helps to rephrase the problem to get confirmation that you understand. For example, ‘What I’m hearing is that you feel unacknowledged because your idea has been repeatedly ignored by the team, and you wish to resolve it by allowing everyone on the team to provide input on projects.’ 

4. Now, find common ground

It’s important to acknowledge points in which each party agrees to start forming the basis for a positive resolution. For example, you may disagree with your colleague’s desired method of redesigning a process, but if you can find any part with which you agree, state it. This will show the other party that you’re willing to concede certain points and can begin to develop a semblance of trust and alliance.

5. After that, provide unbiased guidance

As a leader, you will encounter situations in which you will need to mediate to resolve a conflict at work. The key to providing effective support in reaching an agreement is to never take sides and remain unbiased. As mentioned above, part of mediation may require you to considerately remind the employees to stay focused on the topic at hand, ask clarifying questions and suggest actions that could lead to an agreeable solution.

6. Finally, forgive and move on

Emotions can run high during the process of working through a conflict. Each person should acknowledge their own feelings and those of the other parties involved, apologizing for any hurtful things that may have been said. Most importantly, forgive the other person to allow everyone to move on quickly and peacefully.