Running Your Business

Managing Conflict in the Workplace: How to Disagree in a Positive Way


  • It's best to document all instances of conflict in case a situation escalates

  • Give employees the tools to resolve conflict on their own

  • If managers have to mediate, they should seek a healthy compromise instead of taking sides

Posted by September 20, 2019

Managing conflict in the workplace isn’t easy. Managers have to decide when to intervene and when to let colleagues just work it out on their own, which is far from an exact science. On top of that, there are rarely hard-and-fast rules for what should be documented.

So how can managers play a leading role in resolving workplace conflicts, so that the drama doesn’t end up affecting operations? Here are some best practices for addressing office conflicts constructively and curbing future altercations.

Many Types of Workplace Conflict Exist

No two workplace conflicts are created equal: Some stem from simple disagreements, and others from competition or tension among employees whose personalities just don’t mesh. And sometimes conflict might result from office bullying, which may also violate workplace policies.

Regardless of the cause, make sure to document all complaints in case a simple conflict transforms into one that violates Equal Employment Opportunity laws.

When Should Managers Get Involved?

An open-door policy is important so that employees feel comfortable discussing issues and expectations. Building trust helps employees feel comfortable bringing up touchier subjects with you. To that end, managers should check in with employees periodically—even when there’s not an issue.

Generally, it’s better to intervene in conflict too soon rather than too late, so resentment doesn’t build. If it’s a smaller issue, a manager might offer the disgruntled employee ideas for approaching the other person on their own. For touchier situations, a manager may need to play the role of a mediator.

Managers and employees should document all their discussions in case the conflict escalates. This can also help a busy manager determine if one employee is at the heart of numerous conflicts.

Training Leadership on Managing Conflict in the Workplace

Everyone can use a little interpersonal communication training. Find a counselor to lead a workshop on conflict management. This workshop could teach active listening skills such as asking good questions, remaining neutral, and following up to show that all concerns are valid.

Managers should be encouraged to respond quickly and positively, Forbes suggests. If it’s a personality clash, you should mediate to help employees reach a compromise; mediation gives employees a sense of ownership in the resolution.

A good general approach is to develop a temporary compromise and try it for a limited time. Employees can set a date to meet with management again to follow up on how the solution is working out. But remember: Some personalities may never mesh. In those cases, switching departments might be worthwhile, even if it’s a bit disruptive to workflows.

Instituting and Enforcing a Conflict Management Policy

Businesses should establish a clear conflict management policy for employees and managers. This may include a formal way of filing complaints in cases of serious legal matters like bullying or sexual harassment. These types of grievances should be addressed with the help of HR or an attorney.

For other conflicts, try replacing the traditional “grievance” form with a “request for resolution.” This positively frames the conflict with the goal of finding a solution.

Conflict Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

Managers and team members should remember that a little tension is OK and to be expected from time to time. Disagreements aren’t always negative and, in fact, can be growing experiences for both parties.

When employees disagree, managers should encourage them to talk right away and seek a new approach or idea together. In contrast, bottling things up can generate passive-aggressive resentment that builds over time.

Workplace tension shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes addressing conflict will require you to serve as a mediator; other times, you’ll simply need to provide employees with the tools to resolve it themselves. In any case, managers who can spot conflicts and proactively pursue resolution are likely to enjoy a workforce that works in happy harmony—and who doesn’t want that?

For more tips on how to improve your workplace, browse United Concordia Dental’s articles on managing wellness.

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