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How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

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Most businesses are now aware of the damage that workplace conflict can cause in terms of employee and organizational performance. Many companies now have procedures to cover complaints, disputes, grievances and stress. However, is it more a case of them ‘talking the talk’ rather than improving their ability to deal with workplace conflict?

One major way to manage disputes is to invest in training. This includes raising awareness of workplace conflict among employees and increasing management skills in dealing with difficult situations. Without support and guidance, managers are more likely to be over-aggressive in tackling problems or avoid them altogether.

If short-term disagreements occur, it’s certainly the case that managers can assess the situation and tell employees what should be done. However, effective mediation or dispute resolution models for longer-term workplace problems involve The Three C’s: compromise, co-operation and collaboration. Good leadership in workplace conflict requires managers to bring people together, encourage them to hear everyone’s point of view and agree a way forward.

Conflict leadership factors

Managing workplace conflict is not always something that comes naturally to all leaders. If they receive the appropriate training, they will be more confident in dealing with the most treacherous of situations.

Here are the factors that should be addressed to ensure that managers have the skills to mend working relationships and improve the working environment:

• No dispute can be resolved without the affected people talking to each other. The more information that managers and employees share with each other about problems or relationship difficulties, the easier it is to find a solution that works for everyone. As a consequence, it’s important that managers encourage their staff to open up and be honest.
• Many problems develop because people become angry, frustrated or upset. When negative emotions come into play, those affected are less likely to listen or be able to see any hope of things getting better. When managers lead the way by being calm and logical, others will follow suit.
• Even members of effective teams have their own motivations and interests. When a dispute arises, these traits come to the fore and each person involved becomes entrenched in their own way of thinking. Understanding those individual motivations will help managers to find commonality within them and to find ways of working that will some of the needs of everyone involved.
• Talking openly about workplace conflict helps employees to understand that it’s an inevitable part of working life. By informing them that they have the power to minimize the impact of those problems, managers can develop a preventative culture rather than a reactive one.

Internal versus external mediation

While internal dispute resolution skills are essential, it’s equally important to realize that independent assistance may sometimes be a more cost effective method of turning around very damaging situations. These may arise where staff raise multiple grievances against each other or against their manager, go off sick or simply can no longer work with each other. However, any scenario where the manager feels out of their depth may be better handled by an external mediator.

Selecting an organization that has experience of dealing with the type of dispute occurring in your organization is the key to making the right choice. Make sure that you quiz mediation services on the backgrounds of their consultants, their success rates and examples from similar companies to ensure that the mediation experience gives you the results that you need.

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