People that spend long hours together every week at work can end up not seeing eye to eye from time to time. Most of the time, disagreements resolve themselves without intervention from those in leadership, but some conflicts escalate to the point where they can no longer be ignored. There may be tension or you may notice that other staff members are complaining of a toxic work environment or are absent more often. There are a few effective conflict management approaches in the workplace that can help get past a stalemate between colleagues in conflict.
1) Encourage Those in Conflict to Speak Up
The root of many conflicts is a breakdown in communication. Those who are involved may have stopped listening to each other altogether. The first step toward resolving this type of conflict is to get those involved to speak to each other without emotional outbursts or disrespect. Set up a meeting to give each of them an opportunity to voice their side of what triggered the problem and what is preventing a solution.
Your role is to act as an impartial mediator and to provide a safe space where communication can be reestablished. Don’t show any hint that you believe one party is right and the other is wrong. Simply allow them to talk calmly. In some cases, those in conflict are able to move forward after having an opportunity to express themselves without drama or interruption.
2) Collaboration and Cooperation
Some conflicts continue to be unresolved after participants have clarified what each believes the problem to be. At this point, let them know that leaving the conflict unresolved isn’t an option. Have each state what they’d like to see happen and look for common ground. Brainstorm possible solutions where both of them can get part of what they want even though neither of them is likely to get all of what they want.
You may need to be more of an active participant in these efforts to collaborate. Repeat back to them what you’re hearing and discuss the pros and cons of possible solutions. Ideally, by working together, you can all come up with a plan to get to the other side of the conflict, and by the end of this discussion, both participants know what actions they have to take next. Schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss how well this plan is working.
3) Be Decisive About What Happens Next
Collaboration may not work in all cases. You may be dealing with a belligerent or uncooperative employee, or the root of the problem may be something that can’t be resolved by working together, such as bullying or harassment. When those in conflict refuse to cooperate, the choices of conflict management approaches in the workplace come down to one, and that’s for you to take charge of the situation. As the person in a leadership position, you ultimately decide what happens next, whether this means reassigning employees so they’re longer working on projects together or letting them know that continued refusal to cooperate may result in disciplinary action.
The bottom line is a conflict that has escalated must be resolved, and if the participants aren’t able to do so, you’ll have to decide for them what happens next and be prepared to enforce your decision. With serious problems such as discrimination or bullying, you may need to involve your HR department.
People at all levels of an organization can benefit from training in conflict resolution. Look for opportunities to learn new conflict management or communication skills and make time to practice these skills through role-playing.
Reach out to Peaceful Leaders Academy to learn about available training programs.