Conflict is a normal part of life and, in turn, the workplace. This is especially true for businesses with a diverse workforce. Diversity can energize your business, but differences between employees can also lead to conflicts. That’s why leaders need to have conflict resolution skills.
What are conflict resolution skills? These refer to strategies or techniques that help facilitate solutions for disagreements between two or more parties.
So read on to learn new skills and strategies that may help you maintain a harmonious and productive workplace.
1. Lead with Empathy
Leaders set the tone for workplace culture. One of the best ways to manage conflict is to create an environment that reduces the risk of conflict. One way to do this is by leading with empathy.
What is empathy? Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s what allows you to understand where someone is coming from even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.
Think of empathy as a conflict prevention mechanism. If empathy permeates the workplace, conflicts don’t occur as often. When they do, they’re easier to manage and de-escalate.
Empathy offers other workplace benefits too. Studies show that there’s less turnover in companies with leaders who show empathic concern towards their employees.
2. De-escalate with Humor
There are different types of conflicts in the workplace, and not all of these conflicts will require a lot of time and attention. Your time is limited, so it’s important to pick and choose your battles.
Some trivial disputes will blow over naturally, so you don’t always need to intervene. As a leader though, you can help lighten the mood to encourage everyone to move forward.
One way to do this is by de-escalating with humor. It can help relieve some tension and it may be a good way to introduce a new perspective. When you use humor appropriately, it can even pave the way for stronger team connections.
Tip: When it comes to using humor to de-escalate situations, make sure that you’re laughing with your employees and not at them. Otherwise, you may cause more discomfort.
3. Clarify Goals and Define the Conflict
If you do have to intervene and mediate, it’s important to clarify everyone's goals. It’s difficult to resolve conflicts if the goal of either party is to win.
It isn’t always important to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong. As a leader, your goal should always be solution-oriented.
When approaching the conflicting parties, it’s also helpful to define the conflict. In some cases, the conflicting parties may even be upset about completely different issues.
Present conflict can also escalate quickly if there are unresolved conflicts from the past. So it’s important to understand the nature of the conflict before you facilitate the reconciliation process.
4. Listen Actively
Listening is the key to understanding. Active listening is more than just hearing what your employees have to say, but it’s also paying attention to nonverbal communication.
It’s not just what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it. A lot of times, people can articulate what they think, but not how they feel.
You can get a sense of their emotional state from the tone of their voice, gestures, posture, and facial expressions. Pay attention to all of these things and allow it to inform your understanding of the situation.
Make sure you’re mindful of your behavior as well. Try to maintain eye contact while the other person is talking so they know that you’re present.
Active listening skills are useful not just for conflict management. Salespeople use active listening all the time to connect with customers.
Tip: Try not to interrupt and give feedback until you’re sure the person has said what they needed to say. If you feel like someone has more to say but can’t articulate it, you can ask probing questions.
5. Regulate Emotions
It’s easy to get overly invested when you’re dealing with conflicts in the workplace, especially if you’re dealing with long-time employees. Sometimes, workplace conflicts can also make managers lose their patience.
When a conflict arises though, the concerned parties are probably already dealing with their own strong emotions. So it may complicate things if your feelings get in the way. That’s why it’s important to control your emotions beforehand.
Keeping your emotions in check can help you to maintain impartiality. You’re also in a better position to provide level-headed and healthy responses to the people involved.
Tip: A key aspect of emotional regulation is emotional awareness. You need to acknowledge how you feel before you can manage them.
6. Communicate Kindly and Clearly
When it’s your turn to talk, express your thoughts in a non-threatening manner. Try to avoid adding to the frustration.
At the same time, you need to make sure that you’re communicating clearly. Address the problem head-on. Sometimes, mediators can make things worse by beating around the bush.
Some leaders also provide non-specific or abstract advice. When trying to resolve a conflict, you need to make sure your suggestions are actionable. Otherwise, you may just add fuel to the fire.
Tip: Try to be transparent with your team. It’ll be hard for your team to trust you if they believe you have any ulterior motives.
7. Facilitate Problem-Solving
As a leader and a mediator, your role isn’t to provide a solution. Try to restrict your interventions to facilitation.
Offer opportunities for brainstorming and collaborating. When you facilitate problem-solving, you’re also empowering your team to use and develop their conflict resolution skills.
A top-down solution may be more convenient, but it may fail to address the root of the problem or resolve any negative feelings. Resolutions are more meaningful when coworkers or team members develop them organically.
Tip: If you’re dealing with a large group, make sure you lay down some ground rules first. For example, some group facilitators encourage the use of “I” statements over “You” statements.
8. Promote Flexibility
Flexibility is an important aspect of conflict resolution. It’s easier to solve a conflict if all of the parties are willing to compromise.
So try to promote flexibility during the entire conflict resolution process. It’s possible to come to a mutual decision if people are willing to collaborate and compromise.
Try to encourage everyone to have an open mind. The goal isn’t getting your way, but to find a solution that works for everyone.
Tip: It may help to remind everyone of the company’s values. You can find a compromise and be flexible when it comes to strategies, but it’s important to remain true to the company’s values and guiding principles.
9. Normalize Accountability
In specific types of workplace conflicts, accountability is important. Sometimes, all you need for the resolution of a conflict is a sincere apology.
Normalizing accountability doesn’t happen overnight though. People need to trust their coworkers and feel like they’re in a safe enough space to admit their mistakes.
When they’re able to do this, there’s no need to point fingers anymore. The blame game can stir up strong feelings of sadness and shame.
Knowing how to say sorry is an important skill. It can save you a lot of time, so try to keep this in mind as you mold your company’s culture.
Tip: Employees are more likely to take accountability and apologize when leaders or managers model similar behavior.
10. Follow-through With Mentorship
A conflict doesn’t magically resolve itself with a couple of mediation sessions. Follow-through is important to make sure that people are sticking to the agreed-upon resolution.
You also need to check in to see if working relationships are repaired. Transitioning from mediation to mentorship shows your employees that you genuinely care about them (and not just about solving a problem).
You can’t outsource mentorship to human resources. It will require some of your time and attention.
Tip: A great way to free up your time is by hiring a virtual assistant. You can delegate time-consuming administrative tasks to an off-shore assistant so you can focus on managing and developing the talent in your team.
Research shows that workplace conflict can lead to higher organizational costs, less productivity, and more turnover. So don’t sweep conflicts under the rug. Use these strategies to help manage conflicts in the workplace.
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