Whilst major arguments or fallouts in most workplaces are rare, most managers or HR professionals do have to deal with resolving conflicts at some point in their career. It’s a very important part of maintaining employee satisfaction and ensuring that the atmosphere of a working environment remains positive, no matter the scale of the conflict you are dealing with.
In this article, we cover what conflict resolution and conflict management are in the workplace, what steps are involved in this process and some of the top tips for dealing with conflict in a professional context.
Conflict resolution is the process by which two or more individuals find a solution to a dispute or disagreement. This can be done through a formal process or informal conversation with conflict management assistance, depending on the nature of the conflict and the scale of the problem it has caused.
In the workplace, conflict resolution can be required if employees disagree, one takes offence at something someone else has said, or tension has escalated to a point where normal working can no longer continue. Having a formal, structured system for managing conflict can ensure that everyone feels like the fairest course of action has been taken and make team conflict resolution much easier.
There is no single, official process for managing conflict, but many theories and guides can agree on the same, general approach. The following steps to conflict resolution in the workplace may be broken up into more or fewer steps, but the overall process is as follows:
The first step in most conflict resolution methods in the workplace is to identify what has actually gone on, to get to the bottom of the issue. This may involve speaking to everyone separately, or you may bring the involved parties together and get them to explain, in turn, what they believe to have happened.
It is important at this stage to get both sides of the story and ensure that nobody feels like they are being sided against. Having a mediator can be useful here to help an unbiased account to emerge and so that everyone feels heard.
This step may involve asking questions to clarify every detail, and getting the involved employees to talk back and forth until everyone can agree on a version of events that they feel is fair.
After the issue has been identified and agreed upon, all the employees involved should then state what they want to get out of the conflict resolution session. This may just be an apology from another person, or it may be decided that reparations are required in some form.
If the conflict is over a serious matter, members of HR staff may need to get involved to advise on formal processes.
This stage aims to come up with a future scenario where everyone is happy and the conflict has been resolved. This may take time if those involved cannot agree on what they feel is a fair outcome, but everyone must articulate what they want so a satisfactory solution can be identified.
Once everyone is clear on the ultimate end goal of this team conflict resolution, the next step is to discuss what steps need to be taken to reach this conclusion. Everyone involved must be given a chance to speak and share their thoughts, similarly to the last stage.
Having a designated conflict manager present is the most important at this stage, as it is your role to suggest solutions and processes that you know will work and which are in line with your company’s internal systems and methods.
Once potential solutions have been discussed, everyone must agree on what the best next steps are to resolve the conflict. This may be a very straightforward process if everyone is on the same page about how best to resolve a problem, or it can involve a lot of back and forth if an employee feels that they are not being listened to or given a fair chance.
When a solution to resolving conflict at work has been agreed upon, the last stage is to get everyone involved to acknowledge and agree on how the problem has been resolved. This may seem perfunctory, but it’s an important part of ensuring that nobody feels bitter or unsatisfied with the resolution that has been reached, and making sure that everyone moves forward knowing exactly what has been done and why.
Conflict, tension and disagreements at work can come from all kinds of places. Some of the most common sources for disputes are:
Strategies for conflict resolution in the workplace will vary depending on the nature of the dispute or issue that is being dealt with. However, the following tips can be used in all kinds of situations, whether you are facilitating conflict resolution or directly involved in the problem yourself.
The first thing to remember when managing conflict is to try and do it in person, wherever possible. Sometimes you may have to settle for a video call, but you should always avoid trying to resolve a problem over email or message, as it is very easy for intentions to be misunderstood and people not to get their full point across.
The best way to resolve conflict at work is to arrange an in-person meeting that everyone has had the time to prepare for. This way you will be able to read both verbal and non-verbal cues throughout the conversation and ensure that everyone feels properly understood.
It might seem like an obvious piece of advice, but when dealing with conflict you should always take everyone involved to a private and neutral space. Not only will this ensure that nobody else in the workplace overhears or can eavesdrop on the potentially difficult conversation that you are going to have, but being in a space that isn’t connected to anyone and feels unbiased will also make everyone involved feel more comfortable.
Whether you’re facilitating conflict management or you’re hearing what the person you’re having issues with has to say, listening to everything before you react is essential. It can be easy to get caught up in emotional reactions or start forming opinions as someone else is speaking, but using active listening skills and solely focusing on what they have to say before you respond will ensure that the conversation is much more productive.
Leading on from that last tip, it’s important not to let your feelings and opinions get in the way when dealing with conflict, no matter how you are involved. Try and remain impartial whilst listening to what has gone on, or if you are involved in the conflict, try not to let your emotions affect your response to the other person’s explanation.
Focusing on facts over feelings should also be considered when you’re thinking and talking about what has been said or what has taken place. Try and separate your feelings towards the individuals involved from the facts of what has actually happened, both to avoid making things personal and to have a better overall perspective of the situation.
This tip might go without saying, but when you’re following steps for conflict resolution in the workplace, empathy should be present at every stage. It can often be difficult to relate to everyone involved in a situation, especially if you feel that someone is clearly in the wrong, but all participants in the conversation should be exercising empathy so that they understand where each individual is coming from.
To ensure that a conflict resolution session doesn’t end on a bad note, try and present the situation as an opportunity for employees to learn and develop in a positive way. Highlight the progress you have made and the positives of having a constructive conversation, and then make sure that everyone knows what they are going to do going forward to avoid a repeat of the conflict.
Meditation is a concept that is known as an ‘alternative dispute resolution’ technique in conflict resolution. It involves using a neutral person, often who has been given mediator training, to speak and engage with everyone involved in the conflict to ascertain the facts without any bias, and then work with everyone involved to find a solution that satisfies everyone.
A conflict resolution specialist is any professional who has studied and been trained in official methods of conflict resolution and is brought in to deal with situations where disputes have occurred. They can be a general conflict management specialist or may have an alternative job title such as conciliators, arbitrator or mediator.
Conflict resolution is incredibly important in the workplace, as without it the working atmosphere would be affected and relationships between employees would break down. When there is conflict between members of staff, resolving and managing this disagreement means that everyone can continue to work harmoniously, disruptions are reduced and working relationships are preserved and strengthened.
Conflict management skills are beneficial in a wide range of scenarios, no matter what your job role is. Whilst most people never have to deal with any serious fallouts or disagreements at work, it is useful to know what steps you should follow when resolving any kind of dispute and what tips to keep in mind if you are facilitating a meeting or directly involved in an issue.
If you’d like to learn more about the best ways to facilitate conflict resolution in the workplace, we offer an online ‘Statutory & Mandatory Training: Conflict Resolution’ CPD accredited course suitable for anyone who manages other employees.