How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace (With Strategies)
Updated October 1, 2022
It may be necessary for you to implement conflict resolution strategies in almost all aspects of your life. For example, conflict typically occurs between employees in the workplace when there's a difference in options or interests. Understanding how to resolve conflicts in these situations can help you manage them before they escalate into bigger issues while maintaining workplace relationships. In this article, we discuss what it means to resolve conflict in the workplace, explore various conflict resolution strategies, explain how to resolve workplace conflict, and review essential conflict resolution skills.
What does it mean to resolve conflict in the workplace?
To resolve conflict in the workplace refers to addressing employee differences of opinions, objectives, or styles and establishing common grounds that allow them to work peacefully with each other. In most instances, the individual who resolves the conflict may be an independent, neutral third party or a mediator. In other instances, a party to the conflict may take an external perspective to help resolve the conflict.
Knowing how to resolve conflict is an essential leadership trait. Individuals who can identify conflict, acknowledge dissenting opinions, and find applicable solutions are essential employees. These individuals create an environment that fosters collaboration and helps other employees overcome their differences and work together to achieve the company's goals. They also ensure that, when conflict arises, it doesn't disrupt workflow or affect overall productivity.
Conflict resolution strategies
Here are some conflict resolution strategies you can apply in the workplace:
The accommodating strategy, also known as the smoothing strategy, involves one party conceding and giving the other party exactly what they want to ensure they resolve the issue. This strategy may be the best approach in some situations. For instance, in a conflict where your opinion on an issue isn't very strong, you can adopt this strategy to resolve the issue. In addition, the accommodating strategy helps you provide a short-term solution to an issue while working towards a long-term goal.
This strategy entails ignoring the existence of a conflict. You can adopt this strategy when you don't wish to engage in the conflict. An example of a scenario where this strategy may be appropriate is if there's a frustrated party or no clear solution to an issue. In such a situation, one of the parties may decide they need time to calm down before confronting the other party. Adopting the avoidance strategy may require more effort than engaging the issue and may lead to tension between the conflicting parties.
The compromising strategy, also known as the reconciling strategy, aims to reach a mutual agreement that helps ensure the parties resolve the conflict. In this strategy, both parties willingly compromise on their conditions to ensure they reach an agreement. Adopting the compromising strategy may be a quick way to resolve an issue without escalating into a bigger problem. You can adopt this strategy as a temporary solution to an issue until the mediator or conflicting parties reach a more sustainable and permanent solution.
This strategy shares similar characteristics to the compromising strategy. In the collaborating strategy, both parties work together to find a mutually beneficial solution to the conflict. A scenario where you can apply this strategy is during a negotiation.
The competing strategy is overly assertive and uncooperative. Individuals who use this strategy usually insist on winning at all costs. Most people don't regard the competing strategy as a method that brings satisfactory resolutions, and it doesn't provide for collaborative problem-solving.
How to resolve workplace conflict
If you're involved in a conflict in your workplace, you can use the following steps when resolving the issue:
1. Evaluate the situation
It's essential for you to evaluate the situation independently. Evaluate your behaviours and actions to identify if you're the cause of the issue. You can outline all the issues bothering you, including your actions concerning these issues. By looking at the scenario objectively, you can identify the issues to address and where you hope to change.
2. Address the conflict as soon as possible
After identifying the issue and evaluating it independently, consider reaching out to the other part for a conversation as soon as possible. Addressing the issue early can prevent it from becoming a bigger problem. It also helps you maintain your productivity, protect your workplace relationship, and help ensure your well-being.
3. Set a private meeting
If possible, you can have a meeting in a private place. You can also invite an independent third party or mediator if you think you can benefit from their input. Organizing a private meeting helps both parties be more open and honest about their grievances and helps ensure all parties to the conflict feel safe and free from judgment.
4. Control your body language
Your body language is also an important element when conversing with other people. Try to ensure that your body language is positive. Other elements you can focus on include:
Keeping your arms by your side or uncrossed
Maintaining eye contact
Keeping a relaxed or neutral facial expression
5. Express your feelings
In most cases, conflict may arise from hurt feelings instead of a disagreement over figures and opinions. When in the private resolution meeting, it may be beneficial for you to express how you genuinely feel or felt about the situation. Consider using the word I to express your feelings rather than you to prevent the other party from feeling criticized. In addition, consider using yourself as the subject of the sentence wherever applicable, so it doesn't seem like you're attacking the other party.
6. Find the problem
In some cases, the conflict may result from a single incident, while in other instances, it may involve multiple scenarios and indiscretions from all the parties involved. It's important to take the time to ask each party how they feel, irrespective of how uncomfortable or tense the situation may get. Ensure that you provide all parties with the opportunity to express how they feel to help find the actual problem and cause of the conflict.
7. Listen to the other party
When the other party is talking, it's essential to listen and process what they say. Try to understand them to see the reasons and meanings behind their actions. Consider providing feedback where necessary but ensure that you don't interrupt them. Respond only after they conclude what they're saying. In addition, consider asking for clarification where necessary to help you understand properly.
8. Seek a solution
After all the parties have shared their feelings and comments on the situation, you can start working towards a solution. In some instances, a sincere apology may work. In other scenarios, it may be necessary for all the parties involved to perform some actions toward creating a sustainable and satisfactory solution. For instance, where team members feel their partner wasn't responsive during a task, they might take more responsibilities as the solution.
9. Establish a plan
Where necessary, you can create an action plan to prevent any discomfort or continued disruption from the conflict. If you can't create one yourself, consider consulting an independent third party to create the action plan. This plan helps the conflicting parties feel understood and heard.
Essential skills for conflict resolution
Here are some essential skills to help you resolve conflict effectively:
Bias for action
This implies assertively finding the next steps to move forward rather than waiting for somebody else to take action. For example, in conflict resolution, you can demonstrate a bias for action by noticing that your actions upset another employee and actively seek ways to rectify the situation as soon as possible. Similarly, a manager may notice other employees engaged in a conflict and mediate the issue before it escalates into a big problem.
This skill helps you understand a situation from another individual's point of view. Consider asking yourself what their triggers, thoughts, and observations are. For instance, suppose you work as a customer service representative, and a customer calls because they don't understand how to use the company's product. Even if you think it's easy to use, it may be beneficial for you to see the issue from the customer's perspective. It can help you identify potential issues and areas in the product that require modification and improvements.
When conflict arises in the workplace, it may be necessary for you to organize the surrounding environment to make the dispute resolution process easier. For example, if you're a manager overseeing separate groups, you can bring them into a comfortable room and address the points of disagreement together. In addition, providing a conducive environment and time for discussion can help facilitate a fast resolution to the dispute.
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