A Manager's Guide to Managing Conflict at Work

Aug 6, 2014
8 Min Read

If you're a manager, then you will at some point have to deal with conflicts. Some of these conflicts could be major and others could pass over time. One of the most important qualities that managers must demonstrate in order to get ahead at work is being able to resolve conflicts.

Here are ten ways to go about managing conflicts so that you maintain a level head and are able to get to the best solution possible:

1. Choose your battles.  You don't have time nor energy to manage all conflicts that arise in the workplace. Think about how important the issue is before you decide if you're going to participate in an argument or not. You should also not let your emotions come into play during a conflict because at the end of the day, the work is for the company not you. If the conflict could make you look bad, then you should avoid it because how people perceive you has a direct impact on your success at work.

2. Listen actively. Hear what all parties have to say before getting involved in the discussion. If you fail to listen, you will miss important facts that could change the outcome of the argument. Maybe both parties are getting overworked about nothing at all and are just feeling stressed out and need to talk to you about their own problems. Either way, you should be level headed, take a step back and actively listen to what they are talking about so you can provide the right solution based on the information provided by everyone involved.

3. Have an open mind. Be able to not only listen but put yourself in the position of the other people involved. Everyone has different perspectives and conflicts can arise in the workplace because one person sees things different than the next. So after you listen to what everyone says, it's time to put yourself in their shoes and create a solution that is good for everyone, but especially good for the company. If it's not good for the company, and you can prove why, then you can use that as an excuse to come up with a final solution without harming anyone.

4. Keep your composure. Don't let your emotion get the best of you and watch your body language. If the other parties in the conflict see that you're siding with the other or are unable to handle the situation, it will look bad. Managers should be able to compose themselves, take a step back and truly analyze the situation at hand. If you fail to keep your composure, you will be seen as someone who shouldn't be a manager, or a leader.

5. Be respectful of differences. There are so many differences between people and you have to account for them when engaging in a conflict and trying to resolve it. Someone could be a different gender, ethnicity, class, be from a different country or were raised with a different world view. These are all points of difference that can't be changed but factor into how people behave in a work setting and need to be accounted for. You should respect their differences so that you are fair to them and so that you can best understand and relate to their backgrounds.

6. Identify common ground. Think about where both parties are coming from and what they can agree on. This way, you can help them start to mend their relationship and better work together on resolving the conflict. They should first agree that the problem does in fact exist, then agree on the worst-case scenario and then on a step to fix the issue. Getting both parties aligned and helping both of them figure out a solution can help save you time and be more effective.

7. Propose a solution. If the two employees can't figure things out on their own, it's time for you to step in and help them come up with a solution. Take both perspectives into account and think about how the result will impact the company before making a decision. Your solution should be focused on the company and resolve the problem for everyone involved if possible. Don't pick favorites when you come up with a solution and instead take their perspectives and your own and come up with something that you think would work best.

8. Ask for help. If you can't come to a resolution by yourself, with the parties involved, then it's time to seek advice. I would go to your mentors in the company before you go to your boss. The worst thing you can do is go to your manager and be seen as someone who can't handle conflict - a trait that leaders should all have. Find your mentors in the company and provide all the background information to them so that they can provide you feedback.

9. Be open to compromise. You don't need to win every battle but you should seek to compromise on some parts of the agreement or solution. Sometimes you just have to give certain things up in order to get what you want in a conflict and you have to be fine with that. If you're open to compromise, you will also appear to be a fair person, which people respect.

10. Maintain your objectivity. Managers typically play to favorites when making decisions on who to promote and support. You have to not side with one employee because you like them more or you're bound to make the conflict worse. By maintaining your objectivity, you will end up with a better solution and feel better about it. Again, take a step back and start asking the right questions and analyze the situation as an outsider.

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