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Effective strategies for managing conflict in the workplace
Reading time: 8 minutes
Updated 10 June 2024

Effective strategies for managing conflict in the workplace

Managing conflicts at work is considered a nuisance by many business owners, but knowing how to prevent, address and overcome misunderstandings and disputes in the work environment is vital. Indeed, in any company, whatever its type or size, conflicts can arise that, if not resolved in a timely manner and in the right way, can have a highly negative impact on business.

If you want to shelter your startup from unpleasant surprises, you should know the most common causes that can generate conflict in the workplace, the impact that arguments among colleagues can have, and, most importantly, the best strategies for avoiding or managing such situations. You will find the answer to every possible doubt you may have in this guide.

 

What is conflict management at work

The definition of conflict management at work refers to the set of ways by which arguments and disputes between two or more people that may arise in a work environment (for a large number of different reasons) can be prevented, managed and resolved.

As mentioned earlier, workplace discussions are very common and involve businesses of all types, sizes and levels. Knowing how to handle these situations is, therefore, a skill that characterizes winning leaders. Indeed, in the words of John Doe:

“In the world of work, the ability to resolve conflicts fairly and respectfully is one of the most valuable skills a leader can possess.”

Identifying the causes of arguments and fights is the first step in effectively managing conflicts at work. Let’s find out together what the most common ones are.

 

Common causes of conflict in the workplace

 

Common causes of conflict in the workplace

Common causes of conflict in the workplace

 

One of the most common causes of conflict in the workplace is related to the different personal values or points of view that can inevitably arise within a team.

You must also consider that each worker performs the task in a own personal way, and this too can lead to friction.

The members of a work group may also have different goals. In this regard, it is very important for the leader to explain clearly and precisely what the business goals are, so as to minimize the risk of each worker going his or her own way.

In managing a work team and, in particular, conflicts between workers, communication plays a decisive role: it is crucial to avoid misinterpretation of company directions and to make sure that even between employees, communications are clear and timely.

The leader of a company must precisely distribute tasks to each worker, as well as define in detail the responsibilities of each one. By doing so, disagreements between employees related to merits and faults can be minimized. Remember, in this regard, that burdening workers with excessive pressure could increase stress levels within the group, creating fertile ground for further personal conflicts.

Lack or shortage of resources (such as, for example, money and time) is one of the biggest reasons for employee frustration, as well as another major cause of conflict in the workplace, as workers are “forced” to compete for the few resources available to them. You should make sure that adequate resources are available in your startup and that everyone has an equal chance to get what they want or need.

 

Assessment of impact on teams and performance

Underestimating conflicts is one of the biggest mistakes a manager company can make. For this reason, it is absolutely essential to accurately assess the impact on harmony within the group and on business performance of each discussion.

You can solve a problem only when you recognize it. Remember, in this regard, that what is not a big problem for you may be one for someone else. Not only that, you must also consider the fact that what may appear to be a minor problem today, if neglected, could become a bigger trouble in the future.

Discussions that occur within a workplace are often short-lived and of little consequence. Avoiding all of them is impossible, and it is also complicated to handle them all with the same attention and timing: what is important is to try to limit the negative aspects of each friction, focusing the greatest attention on those capable of having the worst repercussions, which must be dealt with decisively from the outset so as to nullify (or at least scale back) their destructive potential.

A great quality of a leader is to know when to intervene and when, on the other hand, to remain silent, letting the internal conflict recede “on its own.” Sometimes, in fact, intervening in an employee dispute could make the situation worse. An excellent strategy to avoid this risk is to encourage employees to find solutions themselves, obviously taking care to carefully monitor each situation.

 

Detect early signals of voltage

“Prevention is better than cure,” goes an old adage. Again, preventing conflict is the best way to preserve group harmony and avoid repercussions on individual and group performance.

We just emphasized it but it bears repeating: it is necessary to listen and observe carefully everything that happens within the workplace, whether or not direct intervention is needed to resolve the conflict. By learning about (and understanding) team members, it is possible to detect early signs of tension and take action to nip them in the bud.

There are some alarm bells that you should pay special attention to: an employee under pressure and stress (perhaps because of an important deadline approaching or because he or she does not feel particularly appreciated) may repeatedly absent himself or herself at work, as well as exhibit conflicting feelings. Monitor the situation, understand the problem, and intervene promptly to restore harmony.

 

How to prevent and avoid conflict in the workplace

Now that you know the importance of preventing factors that can trigger conflict in the workplace, it is important that you also know how, specifically, to prevent and avoid such situations.

 

How to prevent and avoid conflict in the workplace

How to prevent and avoid conflict in the workplace

 

Open and transparent communication

Open and transparent communication, as well as communication based on mutual respect and education, is a prerequisite for your startup if you want to avoid potential internal conflicts.

Misunderstandings, unfortunately, are the order of the day, but precise and complete indications of tasks to be performed, deadlines and objectives can minimize them. Likewise, company policy must be clear to everyone so that there is no misunderstanding of everyone’s responsibilities.

To avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations, it is also important that everyone feels free to ask questions and seek clarification where they feel the need. Create opportunities for formal and informal communication and be prepared to listen.

 

Implement conflict resolution policies based on empathy

Empathy must be the basis of your workplace conflict resolution policies.

Within a work group, as in any other grouping of people, different personalities and different needs coexist. It is very important that this is clear not only to you but also to all your employees, who must be pushed to put themselves in each other’s shoes to avoid disagreements and friction, for the good of the group and the company.

The key is to try to find common ground, based on shared beliefs or values or similar experiences or interests, so as to neutralize differences and create a working environment based on understanding and respect.

 

Coaching techniques to improve leaders’ conflict management skills

If you want to improve your ability to avoid conflict within your startup you should hone and develop some skills in particular, such as active listening and problem solving.

 

Useful techniques in work team management

Useful techniques in work team management

 

There are, then, some techniques that are particularly useful in managing the work team. The best of these is the negotiation technique, which involves the people involved in the conflict themselves finding a peaceful solution to the dispute. However, this is not always possible.

The facilitation technique is used to resolve conflicts of medium or low severity and involves a third (neutral) person helping the parties involved in the conflict to resolve it, not by proposing a solution but by pushing them to reach an agreement.

Similar, but more formal (and to be used when negotiation to find a solution to the conflict fails) is mediation.

The technique of arbitration is used to resolve serious conflicts in a short period of time: in this case, it is the third person (often the human resources manager) who, after listening to the parties involved, proposes the solution to resolve the conflict. You should know, however, that this is a technique that, rarely offers satisfactory results.

The last technique you need to know about is that of investigation, which involves one or more experts (e.g., a lawyer) making assessments and giving recommendations that are useful in resolving the conflict.

 

Effective strategies for managing conflict at work

You should know that 50 years ago, in 1974, American management professors Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann in the United States of America theorized a model for resolving conflict that, to this day, is still widely used in businesses. This model involves five different approaches. Knowing them all will help you manage any kind of conflict with or between colleagues in your startup.

 

Thomas-Kilmann model for conflict resolution

Thomas-Kilmann model for conflict resolution

 

Accomodating

Accomodating involves accepting the other person’s view, deciding to sacrifice one’s own. This approach is useful when one knows that the interlocutor is right or when the priority is to preserve the working relationship and harmony in the group.

 

Avoiding

Avoiding is the approach in which one evades the situation, postponing the management (and resolution) of the conflict until a more suitable time. This particular technique can prove useful in dealing with minor conflicts.

 

Compromising

Compromising is a solution that is acceptable to all parties involved in the conflict and in which some demands are accepted without, however, satisfying all of them. It is an approach that can be used in a large number of different situations, including disputes between members of a work team.

 

Collaborating

The collaborative approach is to find a solution that can fully satisfy all parties involved in the conflict. Finding this solution requires a thorough examination of the causes of the conflict and, for this reason, is a technique to be used for major issues that require and justify a major investment in time and energy.

 

Competing

The latest approach theorized by American lecturers Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann is that of competing, in which self-interests are pursued at the expense of those of others. This technique is useful in situations where a solution must be found in an urgent time frame.

 

Conclusions: detect, avoid, manage

Dealing with conflicts at work is not easy, but following the pointers you found in this guide will help you find a solution to any dispute, quickly and in the best way.

Remember that it is absolutely essential to actively observe and listen to everything that happens within the workplace, so as to detect even the smallest signs that may indicate the possible emergence of disputes.

By acting early, you can prevent misunderstandings from escalating into actual conflicts, with far more serious consequences for the group and the company.

Fear not: even if this happens, you now know that there is a remedy (indeed, many remedies). In fact, if you have carefully read this guide devoted to managing conflict at work, you know the best strategies for handling even the most complicated situations.

Nicola Zanetti

Founder B-PlanNow® | Startup mentor | Startup consulting & marketing strategist | Leading startup to scaleup | Private angel investor | Ecommerce Manager | Professional trainer | Book writer

info@b-plannow.com

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