Management & Leadership

When sh*t hits the fan - managing conflict in the workplace

Emma Pryke
Emma Pryke 4 min

When sh*t hits the fan - managing conflict in the workplace

Where there are close groups of people with different opinions, goals, or personalities, there is bound to be conflict. We see it in families, sports teams, and of course - the workplace.

Conflict is uncomfortable and icky. There’s no way around it.

What’s important for us as managers to understand is that a degree of conflict is normal and inevitable but like any type of confrontation - the main test is how you manage it. Here’s our guide to understanding why conflict arises and how to deal with it.

Man looking pensive

Understanding the nature of conflict

To effectively manage conflict, it is crucial for managers to first understand its nature. Conflict can arise from various sources, such as interpersonal differences, competing goals, limited resources, or communication breakdowns (we’ve all been there). By recognising the root causes, managers can dig down to the root causes and prevent situations from escalating.

One model that can be employed is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which identifies five conflict-handling styles: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. Understanding these styles can help managers choose the most appropriate approach based on the specific situation.

Promoting open communication

Communication plays a pivotal role in conflict resolution. Managers should encourage open and honest dialogue among team members, providing a safe space for individuals to express their concerns and perspectives.

Active listening is an essential skill for managers, allowing them to fully understand the underlying issues. But it’s a skill that takes time to hone. By fostering effective communication, managers can help uncover common ground and facilitate a collaborative approach to conflict resolution.

Emphasising emotional intelligence

Effective conflict management requires managers to possess strong emotional intelligence. By understanding their own emotions and those of others, managers can empathise with conflicting parties and address conflicts with sensitivity.

The Emotional Intelligence model by Daniel Goleman provides valuable insights into self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management. Managers can leverage these skills to navigate conflicts while maintaining trust and morale within the team.

Emphasising emotional intelligence

Establishing clear policies and procedures

Preventing conflicts is just as important as managing them. Managers should establish clear policies and procedures that outline acceptable behavior, dispute resolution mechanisms, and channels for reporting conflicts.

These guidelines should be communicated effectively to all employees, ensuring everyone is aware of the expected standards of conduct. By setting clear expectations, managers can mitigate potential conflicts and provide a framework for addressing issues when they arise.

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