Two People Shaking Hands in Front of Two Other People

Valerie Dansereau has more than twenty years of experience in corporate America, so the world of business is very familiar turf. She has written for many different types of business from healthcare to addiction recovery to banking to B2B. For Peaceful Leaders Academy, she focuses on conflict management, de-escalation, and leadership development.

In most work settings, leaders face a wide variety of challenging situations. If you want to be an effective leader, one important characteristic you need to have is the ability to deal with whatever comes up, including conflict. Conflicts between employees may come up when you least expect it. Some of them blow over quickly but from time to time you may find yourself faced with disputes between employees that seem to be escalating rather than being worked out.

Your first reaction might be to try to ignore it and assume that eventually, those in conflict will work through their differences. Many people are inclined to try to avoid confrontation, but when you’re in a leadership role, your staff is looking to you to find a solution. When things are getting worse and not better, it’s time to take action.

If you’re new to leadership, dealing with conflict may seem like an insurmountable challenge, but there’s a solution to every conflict. The key is figuring out the best approach for each conflict that comes up and recognizing that every conflict is unique.

Recognizing When It’s Time to Intervene

Fortunately, some conflicts do work themselves out without a lot of drama, and this means you don’t need to get involved every time team members are having a dispute. Recognizing the best time to get involved isn’t always easy. You may notice that certain coworkers are talking to each other disrespectfully and that their tone or demeanor are starting to get ugly. As conflicts heat up, other people are affected. You may notice an increase in absenteeism among other employees. There may be a general atmosphere of tension or low morale when you’re at work.

It’s pretty clear that disagreements that are affecting other people have to be addressed.  It’s one thing to ignore a less than positive interaction when there’s a minor disagreement between two people, but when conflict is allowed to fester, it can intensify. The worse it gets, the more it contributes to an unpleasant work environment and affects the atmosphere of the workplace. Once it reaches this point, when you’re in leadership, dealing with conflict has to be one of your top priorities.

Finding Out What’s Going On

The first thing you’ll need to do is find out exactly what’s going on. You’ll need to let those that are involved in the dispute know that you’re aware there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

As a leader, you need to make it clear that while you’re all working together to find a common solution, you’re in charge. Set up a meeting in which each of the parties involved has a chance to tell their side of things. Establish ground rules such as neither is to interrupt the other when it’s their turn to speak and let them know in no uncertain terms that there’s to be no screaming at each other or any other type of emotional outbursts.

Listen closely to both sides. Make sure one individual isn’t getting noticeably more time to speak than the other. It’s important to hear both perspectives. It’s also important for the individuals who are in conflict to each have a chance to voice what’s been happening while in a discussion with an impartial person who is acting as a mediator.

It’s good practice for leaders to listen closely and take notes during the initial meeting. Write down what you’re hearing each employee say and what each is hoping to see happen. When you do this, there’s a better chance of getting a clear idea about what’s making it so hard for them to come to a resolution. Ask questions if either of them isn’t making themselves clear.

To make sure the nature of the problem has been clearly defined, repeat back to each of them what you’ve understood them to say. This gives them a chance to let you know if there was any part of what they said that was misunderstood and to clarify their meaning.

Self-Awareness in Dealing with Conflict

Leaders need to work on self-awareness when confronting a conflict. It’s important that you act as an impartial mediator, which means you can’t show any hint of choosing sides. Getting drawn into other people’s drama doesn’t help others work through a conflict.

As you listen to your employees talk about their side of things, there are times when one party may clearly seem to be in the right. Even if you’re coming to that conclusion, you have to remain neutral and avoid letting your own personal biases come up, and avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly.

During this discussion, you may find that one or both of your employees is being unreasonable. If this is how you feel, don’t allow yourself to be reactive. It’s natural to feel some strong emotions when you’re in the middle of a volatile situation, but it’s imperative that you keep control of them.

If you’re starting to feel turbulent emotions surfacing, slow down. Take a breath and think before you speak. You may need to step away for a few minutes and delay responding right away.

Think about how others might be reacting to your demeanor. For example, be conscious of your own facial expressions and body language and how they might be interpreted. Are you sending out any signals that you’re disinterested or angry? Have you avoided making eye contact, scowled, or rolled your eyes? Work on staying calm and professional at all times.

Be Empathetic

There are times when outside circumstances may have caused discussions at work to spiral into a heated disagreement. For example, if your department is short-staffed or if your company is going through a merger, the stress the team is under may cause them to take their frustrations out on each other.

If you think this could be the case, give them a chance to talk about what’s really bothering them. If they’re working a lot of long hours, encourage them to take a break or to take some time off if possible. Point out that what’s causing them to feel so angry and frustrated may not be the other person, but instead might be related to other things that are going on.

Your job as a leader is to be in tune with what’s going on at all times and to motivate and inspire others. Work on promoting a positive working environment. Projecting an aura of calmness sets a good example of how you’re expecting staff members to behave. People want to be heard, and it’s your job to let them know you’re hearing them and that you’re concerned and interested in the perspectives and concerns of each of them. Stay focused on the problem and not the personalities of the individuals as you try to help team members work through a conflict.

Working Toward a Solution

Once the reason for a conflict is out in the open, guide the participants in working toward a solution that works for both of them. Clarify what each is hoping to see happen and look for common ground. Let them know that not finding a solution isn’t an option, and start brainstorming possible solutions. Once you’ve come up with a few options, discuss which is the most likely to work for everyone. Define the next steps that each should take to work through the issue.

You’ll need to follow up and make sure that the agreed-upon solution is actually working. In particular, pay attention to whether each of them is doing what they said they would do.

When it comes to the responsibilities of those in leadership, dealing with conflict is often something people don’t really like to do, but it goes with the territory.  Serious conflicts that aren’t addressed can create a toxic work environment, lead to increased absenteeism and trigger other staff members to start looking for other employment opportunities.

Employees in conflict are affecting productivity, their own, and the productivity of everyone around them. The sooner a difficult situation is addressed, the sooner everyone can get back to doing their jobs in a relaxed and peaceful environment.

Be Proactive About Dealing with Conflict

A successful team requires collaboration and clear communication. As a leader, be proactive about making sure the members of your team work well together. When you have a team of people from diverse backgrounds with very different personalities, part of your job is to help them feel like a team. A good way to do this is with team-building exercises and icebreakers as a method of helping team members get to know and trust each other.

If you’re perceptive about recognizing personality differences and the potential for conflict, you may be able to resolve some problems before they happen and prevent some disagreements from worsening. A peaceful work environment requires nipping disagreements in the bud.

People that bring widely different personalities to the workplace also have different strengths. Work on taking advantage of the unique differences and contributions that each employee brings to the team.

If you’re faced with a major problem such as harassment or bullying, don’t wait too long before getting help from others. If a staff member is being hostile or uncooperative, let them know that’s not acceptable and that it has to be addressed. You may need to reach out to your HR department for guidance or ask them to get directly involved. If an employee is discriminating against another employee or bullying them, disciplinary action may be necessary.

Effective leaders recognize that there’s always more to learn when it comes to dealing with conflict. Look for ways to learn more about conflict resolution, such as working with a conflict coach or mentor.

For expert help in restoring a peaceful work environment, reach out to Peaceful Leaders Academy.

Valerie Dansereau has more than twenty years of experience in corporate America, so the world of business is very familiar turf. She has written for many different types of business from healthcare to addiction recovery to banking to B2B. For Peaceful Leaders Academy, she focuses on conflict management, de-escalation, and leadership development.