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5 essential strategies to manage conflict — quickly and fairly — in your workplace

Posted by Grace Townsley

July 26, 2021    |     3-minute read (685 words)

Anywhere people interact there is bound to be some level of conflict. People aren’t necessarily bad, but every person has their own set of cultural norms, processes and procedures, history with the organization, view of their role and the roles of others, and other embedded beliefs. Workplace conflict is simply the surface expression of these differences, enhanced by day-to-day pressure. 

How to better manage workplace conflict

Every business will face internal conflict at some point, so how can business leaders best manage this reality? In a powerful TEDx talk, Liz Kislik, an expert in the field of workplace conflict management, outlines five steps you can take as a business leader or entrepreneur to help mitigate conflict in your setting.

  1. Rule out the chance that the conflict is caused by one difficult person.

Sadly, there is a chance your workplace conflict is being stirred up by one person who is either a bully or is incompetent in their role. If a bully is exhibiting toxic behaviors, or an ineffective individual is making frequent and disruptive mistakes, conflict will naturally follow. If this is the case, a leader is wise to make the difficult decision to remove the problematic bully or coach and counsel the incompetent person towards improvement. In some workplaces, this step alone may mitigate the tension.

  1. Get your info from those with boots on the ground

Our first instinct when looking for the source of the conflict is to ask our department leads or managers. But these leaders may not have an accurate picture of the situation because they’re too far from it. The more effective method is to connect with the employees on the level where conflict is happening. These individuals are in the conflict day after day, and will have the most accurate view of the situation. And be sure to interview several different employees, as each one may only be able to give you one piece or side of the story.

You might use some of these questions to spark the conversation: Is there something that would make your job better? In your view, what goes on around here? What is your pet peeve here, that when someone does it, it really gets under your skin?

  1. Clarify clarify clarify

A common source of workplace conflict is a simple misunderstanding of roles, responsibility, or the chain of command. If two employees believe they are both responsible (or neither responsible) for a particular task, there is bound to be conflict and tension. Restating job roles, areas of responsibility, and the decision-making process throughout the year can go a long way in clearing up gray areas and ensuring every task is covered.

  1. Get help implementing changes

Even the best plan and most productive conflict management is wasted if it isn’t implemented. And in a large organization, change happens slowly. Having buy-in from key leaders in your company can significantly improve the conflict culture change you’re striving for.

  1. Give employees the tools to communicate better

Like bringing in support to help your cultural change stick, teaching your employees how to communicate in a healthier way also significantly boosts your progress towards a conflict-free environment. Many people are unaware of how their communication style can negatively impact those around them. Teaching them interpersonal communication habits and techniques gives them a better set of tools to share their feelings and stresses. Over time, these better communication habits can foster a healthier, more honest, and less conflicted space.

Putting it all together

By the end of this process, you’ve hopefully ruled out the possibility your conflict is stemming from a single problematic person and gotten the full story by asking the right people for information. You have clarified your workplace roles and brought your key leaders on board to help with the cultural shift. And you have given your employees some better communication habits to improve the environment moving forward. Congratulations, you’re well on your way to a peaceful company! Remember, progress isn’t likely to be fast, but the benefit of improved employee morale and retention alone is worth the effort.

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