Workplace conflict happens and is often inevitable. If resolved promptly, conflict can be productive and help a team be more effective at working together. However, minor disagreements left unresolved can ripple out negative energy to the rest of your team and organization. More than being a tense work environment, your team’s productivity and effectiveness will begin to flag. As a leader, it is your responsibility to lead the charge for conflict resolution early and expediently. Improving your leadership conflict resolution skills takes practice and intentional focus and is more often than not tested in trial by fire.
To prepare to mediate your next workplace conflict, EWF has compiled a few effective conflict resolution techniques to practice and keep in mind for the next time you need to step in as a conflict mediator.
Technique #1: Familiarize Yourself with the 5 Common Conflict Resolution Behaviors
Stress and conflict manifest themselves differently in people. Meaning there’s no single way to approach a conflict that will leave everyone satisfied. There are, however, five common behaviors of conflict resolution. Being mindful of these common behaviors will help you find the appropriate path to resolving your future conflicts. As we continue discussing conflict resolution techniques, see if you can imagine how each common conflict resolution behavior might respond.
- Accommodation: Gives in to other participants in the conflict to preserve peace
- Avoidance: Ignores or withdraws from the source of conflict instead of confronting it
- Collaboration: Confronts conflict with the intent to cooperate for shared resolution
- Competition: Wants to ‘win’ the conflict and any resolution to favor them
- Compromise: Reduce the level of conflict by everyone getting some of what they want
Technique #2: Spot the Symptoms of Conflict Before It Grows
Not everyone feels comfortable bringing an issue to their manager, especially if that conflict involves another member of the organization or the team. You can improve your conflict resolution technique by honing on the telltale symptoms of a brewing conflict. Is one of your team members falling behind schedule, or have you seen a sudden drop in their work quality? These can be signs that outside factors are influencing their work.
Another early symptom of brewing conflict is the arrival of new requests from one or more employees to switch tasks, teams, or projects. These requests can lead you to discover there is a personality conflict or other sense of tension in the working environment that is causing one or more team members to avoid the task, team, or project at the center of the conflict.
You may also spot new avoidance behavior from employees. One or more employees may make more PTO requests or reduce their physical presence at work by taking longer breaks, arriving late, and leaving early. When affected team members are present, their casual conversation is diminished, and discussing work topics more often takes on a negative tone. These may all be signs of an employee subject to an intense form of stress, usually caused by an unresolved conflict.
Technique #3: Start the Resolution Process Early
Conflict resolution is often not an enjoyable part of leadership. However, not addressing a problem of conflict and leaving the issue to fester and inflame only makes the matter worse. As possible, move quickly to address those involved in the conflict and bring them together. Apply a minimal delay if one or more of the affected parties needs to cool off so they can come at the issue productively.
When possible, bring those involved with the conflict together in person or virtually face-to-face. Non-verbal communication is lost in a phone conversation, and email is even more difficult to guess tone. For the best possible communication, choose a way to get people’s faces, voices, and body language involved in the conversation.
Once you gather everyone involved with the conflict, moderate the conversation, so everyone affected has an equal voice in the conversation. Start by listening to the issue from different points of view to gain the entirety of the issue and the different players and points of view that are in conflict.
Tips for Conflict Moderation
As you listen to the group and gain an understanding of the issue, it’s crucial the conversation stays fixed on identifying the cause of the problem, not a person to blame. As a conflict resolution technique, recap and confirm what a person has said and avoid speaking for them and their emotions. Do not tell those at the table what they said, did, or felt. Stay focused on being impartial with everyone involved, and after identifying the source of the problem, focus communication on finding solutions.
Whenever possible, look to promote a collaborative solution. As the moderator, it’s also your responsibility to starve out communication with those involved that are concerned with being right or “winning.” Verbalize encouragement, motivation, and praise to everyone involved. Coming to the table and collaborating towards a good solution can be very difficult depending on a person’s primary conflict resolution behavior.
Technique #4: Resolve Conflict Before It Appears
Being a proactive leader is a key conflict resolution technique. Leaders who actively engage in coaching their reports and spend time learning about their team create a stronger bond with employees. Over time, proactive leaders keep lines of communication open and gain the ability to spot growing conflict symptoms through conversation and behavior before they become a significant issue. Overall, this proactive behavior leads to them dealing with much less conflict.
The modern workplace represents a growing diversity in the people that we lead. Leaders must first get to know the people they are leading. In addition, the workplace will demand leaders with exceptional conflict resolution skills. To help early- to mid-career women become more effective leaders, EWF International offers our Emerging Leaders Program. The 12-month program helps women find their superpower and develop leadership skills, like improved conflict resolution management, vital to an improved career trajectory.