Wherever there are human beings, there's invariably going to be conflict.
That's why you should not only expect it and understand it, but you should also learn how to manage it. By teaching your employees how to handle office conflict, you'll create a stronger team that's less likely to become demoralized by interpersonal squabbles.
If you're a team leader, conflict resolution should be one of the skills you have in your toolbox.
By putting together a toolshed of techniques for dealing with conflict, you'll be ready when disputes inevitably arise.
Here are fourteen conflict resolution tips you can leverage to create a more effective workplace.
Schedule a private meeting
Addressing an employee's interpersonal difficulties privately allows them the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe environment. It also prevents bystanders from getting needlessly involved.
Choose a place where you can converse without getting interrupted, perhaps within 24 hours of the event. This allows the participants to sleep on the problem, which will give them a fresher perspective. It also gives everybody a chance to cool off and get away from the office for a while.
However, don't let unresolved work disputes simmer for too long.
Once it's time for the meeting, gather the people together in a private conference room and address the issue head-on.
Allow the participants to say what they want to say without interrupting or imposing your judgment on them. Letting everyone be heard clears the air.
Then, you can jump into the actual issue.
Only focus on one or two issues
Sometimes, bickering employees have an entire laundry list of things that make them angry.
To keep the conflict resolution focused and time-limited, don't have the parties go over all their grievances. Instead, have them focus on one of two of their top priorities.
After getting them to agree on an issue, have them take a deep breath and ask, "So how do we deal with this problem?" Remind them that conflict resolution means transcending problems instead of fixating on them.
Remain vibrantly optimistic and come from a "How are we going to solve this together?" perspective. If employees get stuck on their disagreements, ask them to suggest potential solutions.
Encourage them to envision resolving the issue in a way that's satisfactory to both parties. This doesn't mean one of them has to back down and lets the other party have his way.
If this happens, the dispute won't go away—it will only come back later nasty as ever.
Find common ground
Resolving workplace disputes can be challenging, particularly when individuals have deep-rooted differences of opinion.
That's why when facilitating conflict resolution between fellow team members, you need to help them find common ground and areas of agreement.
Use "I" statements
"I" statements are an essential cornerstone of conflict resolution.
By having a participant frame their thoughts around themselves, they avoid assigning blame to others.
There's more possibility of resolving conflict when a person takes ownership of his emotions.
This is a zillion times better than putting others on the defensive.
Don’t feel the need to fill silences
We desperately want to fill in the awkward silences that exist in conversational gaps, but we don't have to.
By allowing the silences during difficult discussions, others have a chance to reflect on their responses. Respect the natural flow of conversation, and allow statements to breathe if needed. This allows all parties to feel heard, without the need to impose yourself inorganically on the conversation.
Keep things civil by being specific
When managing workplace-related conflict, remind participants to get super specific about their grievances.
Instruct them to refrain from tossing out vague accusations like "You never listen to me" or "You always give me impossible tasks." These statements lack specificity and only serve to inflame arguments.
Don't let the discussion deteriorate by allowing people to say “You should have brought up the issue sooner!” Instead, have them talk about a specific time when the problem occurred.
Have them bring up as many details as possible when they discuss it.
When one team member feels someone else has treated them rudely, he needs to be listened to. Demanding that all parties adhere to specifics can sap arguments of their negative emotional charge.
This makes it easier to have a civil discussion about the problem and allows the aggrieved party to be heard with a minimum of judgment.
Use active listening strategies
When people feel we've been wronged by another party, they might agree to give conflict resolution a whirl.
However, it can sometimes turn into an opportunity to air out grievances, only giving lip service to what the other has to say. When people don't listen, there's zero chance that the conflict will be resolved.
That's why you must get your team members to use active listening strategies. Remind them that the objective isn't to win an argument but to respectfully listen to others so the conflict can be resolved. This is the only way employees will get along with individuals they have a hard time getting along with.
When it's time for conflict resolution, show team members how it's done by paraphrasing what others say. Tell them that active listening doesn't mean it's their fault—only that they're empathizing with the other person's perspective.
Other ways of being an active listener include giving feedback as you listen, restating the issues, and pausing between statements.
We all see things differently, so taking every step to avoid a misunderstanding is essential, particularly in conflict resolution. By restating your understanding of the issues, you allow the other person to correct you if you misunderstood their words.
These are all powerful ways to let someone know you're engaged.
Take a deep breath
Remind your conflict resolution participants that deep breathing is one of the best ways to alleviate stress.
Encourage them to take at least one deep breath when they're in the middle of a heated conflict. When we start listening instead of reacting, we can stop ourselves from lashing out in anger.
If another person's behavior has gotten a team member all flustered, remind him to calm down by breathing from his diaphragm. Then, have him do a little self-reflection by asking himself questions such as:
“What was it about the individual's behavior that got you all upset?”
“Do you think you might be taking things too personally?”
Also, have the party ask himself how he might have contributed to the problem.
Validate employee's emotions
Validate employees’ emotions, but not their behaviors.
Although team members have the right to feel what they feel, this doesn't mean they can act in whatever manner they want.
Don't get upset about being upset
Sometimes, people get upset about being upset.
This is known as secondary stress and is always counterproductive. When we tell ourselves we shouldn't get upset, we put too much pressure on ourselves.
It's better to say, "I would rather not get upset, but it's okay if it happens. Although being upset is an unpleasant feeling, it doesn't mean I'm inferior."
Model calmness in the face of conflict
Show others how it's done by modeling respectful communication when conflict rears its ugly head. Don't rise to someone's level of anger or hostility when they reach it; keep your responses calm and level-headed.
That way, you'll showcase your ability to deal with interpersonal hostility and hopefully inspire others to use the same techniques.
Schedule another meeting
If your conflict can't be resolved in a single meeting, embrace the progress you've made and come up with a plan to meet again.
Sometimes, deeper conflicts require multiple meetings to resolve, so don't be frustrated if the conflict doesn't resolve itself in a single outing.
To give participants something to do between meetings, have each one list creative solutions to the problem.
It's crucial to give the conflict resolution closure with a private follow-up conversation.
Restate the decided-upon resolution, thank the participants for their involvement, and offer to be on hand if there are any further issues.
This helps to close out the conversation and ensures everyone agrees that the resolution of the problem is mutually acceptable to all.
Know when to throw in the towel
Regardless of your level of conflict resolution expertise, there will be situations where no resolution is possible.
When that's the case, you need to know when to give up.
If a situation is too difficult to resolve, it's time to realize there’s nothing more you can do and it should be brought up with HR.
Creating effective workplaces
Knowing that conflict is unavoidable doesn't mean you have to fear it.
Building a team of strong leaders is one of the most effective ways to face and work through conflict.