Conflict Management Activities for Employees

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.

When two or more employees are involved in a conflict that they’re having difficulty solving, productivity is likely to be affected and so is morale. If they can’t work through it, things continue to spiral out of control, and the next thing you know, more people are affected than those who were initially involved.

The best time to think about how to handle this type of situation is to prepare for it before it happens. Instead of waiting for disputes to erupt or trying to avoid conflict at all costs, think about how you can be proactive about offering training to employees in conflict resolution. Participating in a variety of different types of conflict resolution training and exercises can be an effective way to help both you and your staff be prepared for conflict whenever it occurs.

Conflict management activities for employees are a good way to make the training useful and memorable. An exercise can be as simple as having one person talk about a conflict that affected them in the past and having other employees make suggestions of how else they might have solved the problem. An even more memorable way to help employees learn better conflict-resolution skills is by using role-playing and participating in a variety of team-building activities.

Hearing Versus Listening

Developing good listening skills can help to prevent many conflicts from escalating because of misunderstandings. Listening isn’t always as easy as it seems like it should be, and in any conversation, when one person is speaking, the others may or may not be actually listening.

One of the most effective conflict management activities for employees is a game called “You said, I heard.” The idea is that one person makes a work-related statement and the other person hears it in a way that may cause them to be offended. The first person can then clarify what they meant with a “you heard, I meant” statement.

For example, one person says, “Where did you put that file?”

The next says “I heard, ‘why don’t you ever put things where they belong?’”

The first responds, “You heard ‘why don’t you ever put things where they belong’. But what I meant was ‘I’m having trouble finding just that one particular file.’”

This type of activity can help employees recognize that they’re sometimes hearing things that were never actually said. There are times when simply misinterpreting a statement can lead to unnecessary conflict that might have been prevented with better listening skills.

Identify Good or Bad Listening Skills

Another exercise is to practice distinguishing between good and bad listening skills. Have a conversation with a group of employees about things that might be considered “bad” listening.” Talk about habits or actions that demonstrate that someone isn’t actually paying attention, such as interrupting, not making eye contact, focusing on a mobile device, or fidgeting. Ask people to share experiences where they felt sure someone else wasn’t listening to them, either inside or outside work, and what the other person did to give them that impression.

Follow up with a discussion on what “good listening” or “active listening” might look like. Signs that someone is listening include making eye contact, nodding, smiling, asking questions, or making encouraging comments such as “I understand” or “That’s a good point.” Encourage employees to get in the habit of being attentive while others are talking and using active listening skills to communicate that they’re paying attention to what’s being said.

Time Traveling

A fun approach to conflict management activities for employees is to play a time-traveling game. To do this, two people act out a fictional work-related conflict that’s reached a stalemate. Avoid using actual scenarios that have happened in your workplace. After the conflict has been acted out, other team members play the role of time travelers who describe from the perspective of the future how things ended up being resolved.

Try having one team member offer the perspective of a month in the future while another may have time traveled a year or two into the future. Participants can offer a variety of possible ways the conflict might have worked itself out. It’s a great way for employees to think through various solutions to a conflict.

Brainstorming Resolutions to Conflicts

Consider using role-playing to think through how disputes might be resolved. Have a group of employees watch a movie clip or read a passage about a conflict and discuss ways those in conflict might have handled things differently and ended up with a different outcome.

An alternative to using a fictional scenario from movies or books would be to create a conflict that could happen on the job, but don’t use anything that actually has happened in your company. Invent a possible conflict between fictional coworkers and discuss different ways they might work through the dispute. Discuss different interpretations of who’s right and who’s wrong, and creative ways that characters could work through differences.

Another way to do an exercise to think through conflict resolution is to have two employees role-play a work-related disagreement. Ask questions of those who were listening such as:

  • What is each side thinking or feeling?
  • Is it possible that what they’re thinking or feeling isn’t being communicated in what they’re saying to each other?
  • What does each person need?
  • What are their underlying motivations?
  • Is anyone else involved in the conflict?

This is a good way to learn to try to see both sides of any conflict. It’s a way to practice digging deeper rather than jumping to conclusions on what appears to be the problem on the surface when trying to solve a conflict.

It can be enlightening to discuss different ways people might approach conflict. Do different individuals try to avoid confrontation or conflict while others seek it out? Do some conflict situations require a calm response while others require assertiveness? How might the outcome of some conflicts be affected by completely different approaches?

What Would You Do?

Another way to think through different approaches to conflict resolution is to play a game of What Would You Do which challenges participants to think through how they might handle challenging situations. Provide a variety of possible conflicts and ask participants to consider what they would do if faced with a challenging situation. For example, some questions could be:

  • What would you do if a coworker refuses to speak to you at all?
  • What would you do if someone else took credit for your work?
  • What would you do if coworkers were spreading rumors about you that aren’t true?
  • What would you do if your boss continually accused you of doing things you didn’t do?
  • What would you do if a coworker is making rude comments to you about another coworker?

A good way to approach this game is to have a combination of silly and serious questions. That helps to keep the mood light while still providing helpful conflict-management activities for employees.

Fun Team-Building Activities

A good way to keep conflicts to a minimum is to have regular team-building activities that are relaxed and fun. This can help members of the team to bond and to get to know each other in casual interactions that aren’t overshadowed by stress. The more comfortable members of your team are with each other, the more likely it is that they’ll feel satisfied at work. Some activities to consider include:

  • Scavenger hunts. Divide employees into small groups of four to six. Give them a list of tasks with point values to be earned for each task. Some ideas of tasks include taking selfies with strangers or at a specific location, taking selfies with the CEO, building towers using paper clips and post-it notes, creating a ball out of rubber bands, or finding different colored staplers. Scavenger hunts are a great way to have fun while learning to work together.
  • Two truths and a lie. Team members share two truths and a lie about themselves while those that are listening guess which one is the lie. This is a great way for coworkers who don’t know each other well to break the ice between them.
  • Trivia challenges. Trivia games can be fun and challenging while helping to boost morale. Questions can be about movies, sports, famous locations, history, current events, or even a series of questions about the company or the people who work there.
  • Finding things in common. Another way to approach ice-breaking is to have a small group of people try to figure out what they might have in common. Some things that people might have in common include favorite restaurants, favorite colors, favorite foods, travel destinations, and sports teams.
  • Baby pictures. Ask everyone to bring in a baby picture of themselves. Put the pictures up in a collage or a slideshow and try to guess who’s who.

Another spin on team building is for employees to spend some time doing any kind of relaxed and fun activity. Some examples include playing board games, playing bingo, or doing a jigsaw puzzle. Spending around 30 minutes on relaxed interactions is a great way to encourage staff members to get to know each other, build camaraderie and let go of stress and tension for a little while.

Whatever activity you choose to use, the important thing is that you keep working on improving conflict resolution skills as a team. When conflict management activities for employees are used as a learning tool, it helps the group be better prepared to keep future conflicts to a minimum.

For more opportunities to improve conflict resolution and peace-building skills, 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.