Conflict resolution strategies are skills every successful leader must learn. In any work environment, conflict is inevitable. Statistically, close to 85% of all employees have experienced some form of a dispute within their workplace. If you’re a leader who wants to reach the highest level, it’s essential to understand that clashes are unavoidable.
Conflict shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Instead, it should offer some insight into how using the proper techniques can help you save time, resources, and money.
Leadership requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, seeing as conflict is a full-body sport. That means it’s important to prepare your first line of defense. Have leaders act as mitigators until one-on-one dialogue can help mend the blow.
Having a steady stream of assisting players can often cut the action before it reaches the backline.
It takes leadership to make your team flourish as one. For that to happen, you need to know the different techniques of conflict resolution. Preferably before the first employee even steps foot in the workplace.
However, it’s not as simple as knowing how to argue or share a business viewpoint. More often than not, managers tend to rely on empty talk and little action to try and cut the conflict. Leaders, on the other hand, know to go in headfirst.
Knowing how to discuss productively can bring out the best in the workers, the manager, the supervisor, and the leader.
Conflict Resolution Strategies
1. Establish Good Communication
One look into job satisfaction statistics provides some insight into why conflict is so widespread in the workplace. Most people tend to believe that their colleagues aren’t keen on knowing or understanding them.
Misunderstandings are due to varying ways of dealing with challenging tasks, risk management, and cultural and personal differences.
Most of all, it has to do with a lack of clarity.
Worker X has an issue with the way Manager Y gives out tasks. Manager Y does not understand why Worker X continues to mismanage work and is often late with obligations. Manager Y decides to abandon the project and report Worker X for having a poor work ethic. Conflict ensues.
Hypotheticals aside, close to half of all work-related disputes have personality clashes and poor leadership. The following are the most commonly listed reasons:
- Poor line management
- Inadequate team selection
- Lack of role clarity
- Poor resources
All of these reasons are under one umbrella — communication. Astoundingly, as much as 80% of all disputes happen due to a lack of communication.
To the point conflict resolution strategies
The source of most work disputes comes down to not having a clear idea of the job. Being a leader means accepting that giving out information is not a riddle, a task, or a challenge. Knowing how to communicate clearly is critical to having your team work with you rather than for you.
It’s the difference between wanting to have the job done right and getting the task over with as quickly as possible. Moreover, it lowers stress at work and improves productivity for both the worker and the business. The bottom line is that defining a task is more important than refining it.
Being an effective leader means knowing that communication is not a monologue that requires complete compliance from a worker. It must go much further than saying hello in the morning as you pass a worker’s desk or asking how everyone’s doing during your cloud-calling meeting.
It also comes with acknowledging mistakes and apologizing when things weren’t understood correctly. Moreover, it means clearing up and working out any unresolved issues with a worker before a task is completed. Having a conversation is never about competing with the other person to see who can get a word in, which is especially important in any dispute where the common goal is solving the source of the problem.
Good leaders know that communication is different with every person. After all, a team consists of several individuals.
What works for one person can be detrimental to the mental health of another. What Eve understands to be a rule, Steve may interpret as a guideline. Shutting off the collectivist mentality is vital in resolving any conflict when dealing with an individual.
2. Get Your Timing Right
Leaders who are made aware of a conflict are already three steps too late to solve it. If communication is the weapon of choice in the battle for a great workplace, good conflict resolution strategies say timing is the strategy that decides the fight.
One in three workers in the U.S. is looking to change their current job in the next six months. Two of the big reasons are poor time management and lack of conflict resolution skills.
Many workers are just waiting to board another ship when they spot their ship heading for an iceberg. Timing can be the difference between steering the vessel away or sinking without a single lifeboat.
However, most people don’t realize that timing also has to do with knowing every employee. It means spending time getting to know:
- Their demeanor
- What makes them tick
- Which colleagues they are most likely to argue with
- How to best motivate them
Knowing your employees can cut most, if not all, disputes out of a workplace. Most importantly, don’t deal with toxic employees since that single bad apple probably will spoil the whole bunch.
Timing is all about passive perception. It sees the quality of work drop from one week to another, listening to employees request a change in their teams, knowing that a specific employee is taking more days off than usual, or recognizing that work is late.
Inviting a worker into your office for a conversation may already be too late to mend the problem, which is why you need to time your response to happen well before an employee approaches your door.
If conflict isn’t preventable, it must be mendable. Taking the lead on solving the issue at hand shows initiative and can show employees that working out the problem is better than letting it fester.
Even the best leaders can make the mistake of thinking that a bit of confusion doesn’t always have to lead to a full-on meltdown. However, being present on the crime scene can give some perspective and new clues on preventing future quarrels.
Conflicts bring many negative vibes into the conversation, saying that rationality goes out the window if the timing is poor. A good leader must act as a mediator between two opposing sides and know when to intervene.
An essential part of every healthy conflict is knowing that a clean slate comes only after stress and emotions. That is why allowing the time and space for conflicts to transpire is vital.
However, having a neutral third-party mediator is essential if the leader is directly involved in the conflict. Systems for whistleblowing are highly effective third parties in providing employees a safe, secure, and anonymous way of reporting conflict.
In either case, there are two sides to every story, and the truth means compromising for one final version — and doing that takes time.
3. Just Listen
While it might seem self-explanatory, listening is the most effective way to deal with conflicts in the workplace. It may seem counterintuitive considering the importance of communication when dealing with a dispute, but listening is a technique that should be applied long before any direct communication occurs.
When workers are listened to, they are almost five times as likely to do well at work.
Ultimately, this means paying attention to worries, doubts, and anxieties that a worker may have, which helps prevent all sorts of future disputes.
Humans don’t like feeling vulnerable or exposed. A worker coming to a manager with concerns about a task, an issue they’re having, or a worry about another colleague means they’re trusting the leader to assist them.
Moreover, it’s a test of ego for a leader. Understandably, there are many things to keep track of when handling a team or leading a company. However, being a leader means accepting the responsibility of managing both a business and a team of people.
Conflict resolution strategies never make excuses
Listening comes with not making excuses for any lackluster behavior. It’s easy to fall back on why things are difficult — that conditions will improve someday and that it’s the best you can offer for the time being.
Think about it like any regular relationship. If a partner has been falling back on their promises and cannot improve their behavior, it would often result in the relationship ending. The same goes for a working relationship. If an employee feels dissatisfied, the immediate response should never involve making excuses and no solutions.
People who want to make a point often repeat a few words in a jumble of paragraphs. Repetition is especially noticeable in spoken conversations, where most people opening up tend to fall back on the main issue at hand.
Having the ability to read through the sea of filler words is essential in identifying the problem and, in turn, figuring out where the source of the conflict resides. More importantly, it helps form the right questions after the end of a confessional instead of meaningless directions.
Being a great leader means knowing how to listen. Part of that is knowing that most employees have worries outside of their work that often translate to their performance. A staggering 96% of employees say their employers demonstrating empathy is a top priority. What’s more concerning is that 92% of those workers believe that empathy is undervalued in their workplace.
Allowing employees to freely express themselves and having the ability to understand their worries can be the difference between unlocking your team’s full workforce potential and being just another transitional stop in their search for a permanent job.
4. Hold Yourself Accountable
Conflicts are not only about resolution but also accepting responsibility and learning to hold yourself and others accountable. There are going to be situations where pleasing every party of a dispute won’t be possible. Taking a decisive stand in a conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if it lines up with what you’ve envisioned as a leader for both your group and your company.
However, it does mean facing the sometimes hard reality of dealing with a conflict by speaking a different language. Remember that this is not a punishment, and it shouldn’t be passed on as one. Instead, it should be about correcting behavior and stopping any future instances occurring in the workplace.
Conflict resolution strategies to take the lead
The most effective way of taking accountability when things go awry is accepting fault at the highest position of the pecking order. As a leader, managing conflict also means managing your behavior if you’ve wronged someone or disrupted a process.
While it’s not a “cure-all” for every conflict, showing your employees that their leader can indeed take the lead in accepting responsibility and admitting fault is vital. In fact, seven in 10 workers want leaders to manage conflicts appropriately and accept the consequences of their wrong actions.
Keeping the workplace happy goes hand-in-hand with keeping the company values in mind. It means accepting that a toxic top worker can be good for finances in the short term but bad for business in the long run.
It means following the standards that you’ve set for the workplace and keeping in line with the rules and guidelines of your business.
If someone reports a worker for abusing the company’s trust, these allegations should be taken seriously. For example — workers who use company VPN software to game, download content, or bypass other proxies in the workplace could get the business in hot water down the road.
Conflict resolution comes with difficult consequences for some individuals, providing a stable and healthy work environment with accountability.
One challenging part of conflict resolution for leaders is accepting that they must take the first-person approach.
That means not cowering behind documentation or administration. Instead, it’s laying out the consequences of a particular dispute, how they affect the employee, the business, and any future goals.
A leader should let any injured or affected party know what steps are being taken to mend the issue — and how to prevent it from happening in the future.
5. Learn From Past Conflicts to Build Conflict Resolution Strategies
Learning from previous conflicts is beneficial not only for the leader but also for the business itself. It’s an opportunity to understand how to resolve disputes, develop a strategy to manage difficult employees, and demonstrate that handling issues leads to growth in productivity.
The most effective leaders recognize that learning through experiences is essential in managing future workplace conflicts. Successfully dealing with a work conflict helps you understand how to handle similar future problems more swiftly and effectively.
This also means learning to prevent conflicts before they can even happen.
Smart leaders utilize knowledge from past conflicts to make new situations have positive outcomes. They can have specific individuals act as mediators in conflict situations or establish guidelines to manage disputes healthily.
Effectively, this means leading your team toward innovative ways of solving disputes as a unit and turning the conflict into an opportunity to raise overall productivity.
The Bottom Line for Conflict Resolution Strategies
Every good leader must take up the journey of exploring the often complicated world of management. Born leaders can have inherent qualities that help them manage conflicts better, but naturally talented leaders aren’t an end-all-be-all solution to running a business.
More often than not, it means learning from others, offering support in times of crisis, and understanding that both sides can be right about one issue.
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, meaning conflict in the workplace is not bad. In fact, it can be an excellent way to measure progress and care from both the leader and the workers.
However, steering too far to the left or right can leave you incapable of measuring distance, performance, and potential leaks. This is why navigating with clear conflict resolution strategies is the best method to reach your destination and ultimate success.
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