Career Woman

5 tips for handling conflict in the workplace


Statistics have shown that managers actually spend at least 30% of their work hours managing conflict. When it comes to conflict, disagreements and uncomfortable situations, most people are unprepared, and feel lost and vulnerable when it arises.

Conflict in the workplace can lead to costly results for businesses and individuals. The main risk factors include:

  • Increased sick leave and absences
  • More people leaving their jobs
  • More people getting fired
  • More frequent project failures

So, how do you handle workplace conflict?

1. See conflict as a positive thing

A lot of negative energy goes into conflict. If you can harness the energy put into conflict and redirect it into a positive direction, a project may be finished faster or an outcome achieved quicker because those involved applied themselves. The way to do this is to steer the emotion around conflict into a commitment. Encourage your employees in conflict to be open and accountable. Recognising how they feel takes the irrationality from the emotion and allows them to channel it towards a positive goal to achieve.

2. Accept that conflict is a healthy part of work and home life

If managers shy away from conflict and have the “they’ll sort it out” attitude, this does not show leadership but instead indifference. Remember, conflict can lead to a lack of productivity and that is not something a manager should be indifferent to. Conflict must be dealt with in a timely manner, otherwise it can fester and the real issue becomes lost. Conflict is a great opportunity to encourage creative problem-solving and compassion. As with any challenge, look for positive outcomes and take action if necessary.

3. Practise and teach active listening

The largest part of conflict typically stems from miscommunication, misunderstanding and not hearing the real issue raised by the people in conflict. The key here is to communicate clearly and clarify when someone shares their position, as this will help to determine the real problem. When a colleague says they are stressed, find out why. Is the stress due to workload? Lack of confidence in their abilities? Or something else? Understanding is not equal to sympathy. A person dealing with conflict needs action; a suggested solution. Their argument must be heard and a decision needs to be made. Conflict does not require someone who simply agrees with both sides.

4. Give and request feedback

A situation of conflict is the perfect environment for learning. Conflict can teach compassion and a new way of thinking and perceiving the problem at hand. Give praise for the arguments that are strong and sound. Give constructive criticism for arguments that are not appropriate in the workplace. For example, if an employee wishes to change a process to make it more streamline, find out what they wish to implement and praise their efforts on the things that will help the business, and give feedback on the parts that won’t work for your business. Always explain why as this is the best way to learn. Also be open to receiving feedback yourself as the mediator. Did your employee feel heard and valued? Could you have dealt with the situation faster? Feedback can be useful for dealing with future conflict on different issues.

5. Keep conflict private and personal

Always keep the conflict between the parties involved. Do not air the issue in front of others not involved and certainly don’t gossip about it as this leads to drama. This will earn you respect from the quarrelling parties. Have a quiet meeting once both parties have calmed down and communicate with compassionate accountability to close the gap in the argument. Things that once seemed like a big issue in the heat of the moment may not be so large in the cold light of day. Do remember that each person has a distinct personality and there are two sides to every story.

Overall, conflict does not have to be a large issue. If dealt with quickly and effectively, conflict can actually be turned into a positive, teaching stronger and more collaborative teams. Avoiding conflict may not be possible, but it can be reduced with clear communication and by following a distinct process in how to steer this conversation.

About Ilona Vass'

Ilona Vass is the Director and Founder of Dancing With the Dragons. Ilona is a licenced and certified practitioner of PCM and LOD systems, and results coach, and has a Certificate in human resources and organisational development. Dancing with the Dragons assists companies and their leadership teams to develop a passionate a supportive team, ensuring that company culture equals a profitable business.

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