Leadership and Workplace Conflict: How to Resolve Conflict (and Keep It from Happening in the First Place)

Conflict and workplace are two terms that often go hand in hand. When conflict at work is left unchecked, it will break down communication, cause frustration, and affect productivity. As a leader, it's important to understand how to mediate conflict among your team in a healthy way. Sweeping it under the rug or avoiding it is never a good solution and can cause problems to escalate.

Left unchecked, workplace conflict can lead to:

  • Lower productivity levels
  • Stifled creativity
  • Collaboration barriers
  • Lower employee retention
  • Lower morale

What Causes Conflict?

Workplace conflict can happen for a number of reasons, including tension from competition between staff members, communication problems, power struggles, opposite viewpoints or positions, compensation issues, jealousy, pride, ego, a bad hair day, etc. The point is, conflict can arise for a number of reasons, usually stemming from the lack of emotional control on the part of one or more people.

While conflict is inevitable, as a leader there are some steps you can take to resolve conflicts before they become major problems that negatively impact your daily operations.

1. Identify the source of the conflict. The first step in resolving conflict is understanding what exactly is causing the conflict. Once you understand the source, you can begin to help those involved with what needs are not being met that is causing the disagreement. Make sure you understand the perspective of each person involved in the conflict before moving forward. Do not play favorites or get involved in the drama yourself.

2. Discuss the conflict privately. Choose a neutral, private place where all parties involved can discuss their concerns. Something like a conference room would work well. Encourage each person involved in the conflict to fully communicate their views and concerns with the issue in question. Avoid giving one party more time than the other, and encourage all involved to be honest and respectful.

3. Listen and follow up. During your private meeting, listen carefully to each person, asking for clarification as needed to understand all points of view. Look for any underlying issues that might be contributing to the problem.

4. Once you think you have a good understanding of why the conflict is occurring, work with those involved to come up with an objective that helps to resolve the issue so it doesn't resurface later. If you don't address the initial source of conflict, it will pop back up later.

5. Agree with those involved on the best solution. Clearly outline each person's responsibility in making sure the issue is resolved. Make note of strategies that will help prevent the conflict from happening again.

6. Touch base with those involved in the conflict after some time has gone by to see how things are going. This will help you determine if the problem has been resolved or if further action is needed.

Tips for Reducing Workplace Conflict

There are also some things you can put in place to manage conflicts in the workplace as they arise.

Clearly define what is acceptable behavior. By publicly laying out a framework of what acceptable behavior looks like, how decisions are made, how authority is delegated, and how collaboration and teamwork fit into the picture, you can nip many potential conflicts in the bud.

Address conflict (or potential conflict) immediately. You can't avoid all conflict, but oftentimes you can see it coming. By identifying and understanding when tensions are likely to arise and being proactive in those situations, you can avoid conflict or minimize it greatly.

Understand the motivations of those involved. By putting yourself into the shoes of others, you can understand what motivates them and what obstacles might cause conflict. By doing this, you can help them achieve their goals and head off conflicts before they arise.

Look at the opportunity in conflict. Conflict typically provides a valuable teaching opportunity for those involved. Use the conflict to your advantage whenever possible for team building, growth, and development. Differing positions, when properly addressed, can spark innovation and creativity that may otherwise have not been found.

Where there is a sincere desire, conflict resolution can typically be found. As a leader, it is your job to help your team through these bumps in the road in order to facilitate personal growth, teamwork, good communication, and organizational success. 

If you are a business owner or manager struggling with conflict within your business or organization, we can help! Leadership Excellence offers individualized training programs for leadership and management to help deal with conflicts, lower productivity, and other common issues that you might be facing. Get in touch with us today to see how we can help you and your organization succeed.