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    Conflict management: How to handle conflict in the workspace

    Conflict management: How to handle conflict in the workspace

    Ronald Reagan once said that peace is not the absence of conflict, but an ability to handle conflict by peaceful means. We can’t agree more with this...

    Ronald Reagan once said that peace is not the absence of conflict, but an ability to handle conflict by peaceful means. We can’t agree more with this. Workplace conflicts are as common as lunch breaks and team buildings. They just happen. And it’s hard to imagine a team that never disputes over anything.

    Who is going to take on the new project? What are the best design solutions for your new campaign? How will you increase your purchase rate? Conflicts arise around millions of issues. Every day. It’s inevitable and natural, especially in small businesses.

    Conflicts can also happen even when there isn’t a viable reason for them to arise. Built-up tension and personal issues at work can all contribute to conflict in a company.

    The following question then arises: how do you handle conflict? To be more specific: how do you handle conflict so that everyone feels heard and understood? Below, we’ll guide you through some proven techniques to handle workplace disputes, and list key don’ts for conflict management — read till the end.

    Understanding the nature of workspace conflicts

    By definition, conflict in the workplace arises from a clash of interests, opinions, or principles. The two most common reasons for conflict in small businesses are poor communication and excessive emotions. Here, people sometimes fail to understand each other correctly, and become overly emotional, which prevents them from logical reasoning. 

    Now, what are the key stages of conflict?

    • Disagreement. At this stage, people understand they see things differently.
    • Personification. Later, they personify the conflict blaming the other party.
    • Problem expanding. At this stage, people tend to remember other conflicts from the past.
    • Dialogue abandonment. People see no reason for further discussions.
    • Enemy images. People experience anger and perceive each other as enemies.
    • Open hostility. This is a core clash of behaviors.
    • Polarization. Further on, people don’t want to talk or go deeper into the situation.

    It’s best to deal with conflict when it’s hot and fresh, since the unresolved conflict can become deep-rooted among employees and affect company performance.

    How to handle a conflict in the workplace

    Handling conflict is part of the everyday job for most managers, so it’s important to know how to do it right. We believe conflict resolution is an art that will require good communication and problem solving skills from business leaders. Below, let’s talk about the key steps you can take to eliminate conflict — or even prevent it. 

    Change your attitude towards conflict

    For some, conflict can be a source of anxiety, fear, and a negative mood. Let’s face it: no one really likes arguing and some people just avoid it. But the path to growth lies in accepting the conflict instead of rejecting and fearing it. 

    View conflict as an innate part of team development. Once you overcome conflict within your team, you’ll see how ties become stronger, team members start understanding each other better, and the dynamic improves overall. 

    It’s like with family: you may not always like what others do or think, but you are together for a reason. So, it pays to treat conflict as an opportunity to grow and advance your team to a new level of collaboration and togetherness

    Clarify the reason for the conflict

    Conflict happens for many reasons — and you have to clearly understand what those are. Here, you want to see clearly why the conflict happened and what led to it. What is the contradiction between your employees? What is the root cause of an argument? What are people’s expectations? How deep is the conflict? 

    Think of creating a list of those and let all conflict members review it. Sometimes, it’s easier to deal with things when they are put on paper, since it allows for less emotion and a more constructive attitude. 

    Perhaps, after this, you will want to review some of your organization policies to introduce more advice on how not to get into conflict — and what to do when people do. 

    Arrange a safe place to talk

    Some teams will get through conflict seamlessly, barely affecting each other’s emotions. While other teams might go too far. To make sure you’re forwarding in conflict settlement, you want to find a safe and calm place for employees involved to talk. For some, office rooms will do. 

    However, in some cases, it’s best to take a less official approach. Especially if you’re a small business. Take the lead and invite your team to a coffee spot nearby the office. Foster comforting small talk for everyone to feel better. Ensure everyone in the team is ready for an open and sincere conversation. 

    Sometimes, you might want to approach all sides of the conflict separately, and inquire if they are open to talking and what would be the best place to do so. 

    Be an active listener 

    As in personal relationships, the path to handling conflict lies in being attentive to other people’s stances, moods, and desires. To figure those out, try to be a good listener — and a proactive one. Give people time and space to talk and explain the situation. Maintain the conversation by asking open ended questions starting with “Why?”, “How?’, and “For what?”. 

    Be polite and modest as you talk, listen actively, avoid interruption, pay attention to people’s body language, show that you are interested in what the other person has to say — and actually be interested. Such an attitude will help you get a better grasp of what your employees want, and help them feel heard and understood. 

    Understand the agreement and disagreement points

    Again, your team is together for a reason. There are surely points your team members will agree on and consider vital. Identify them and build on them. Do you want to roll out a new marketing campaign soon? Does everyone want it to be splendid? Are you on the same page on its core goals? 

    Sometimes, people can get lost in conflict for the sake of conflict. Revert to this to make your employees think about a common goal. This could be their professional development, which will advance thanks to your project, company values, or more. 

    Once you’ve built on your common points, investigate the source of disagreement. Who wants what? Why? Can you find a solution that fits all? In some cases, you will need to develop an all-new approach to your project — to make sure everyone finds it okay. 

    Avoid taking things personally and being overly emotional

    In most cases, conflict is not about people being inappropriate. It’s about the situation in which one’s idea of the best solution contradicts with those of the others. Here, it’s best not to dive deep into thinking about what someone as a person is doing wrong. 

    If you hear someone’s work being critiqued, remember: they’re criticizing the work, not the person. If someone’s finding it hard to deal with their emotions, recommend trying out some proven calmness techniques — meditation, deep breathing, time to relax

    Get down to discussing conflict once you feel that everyone’s emotions are under control. Focus on logic, actual events, and facts.

    Adopt your go-to solutions

    Again, there is nothing more useless than conflicting for the sake of conflicting. You want to find a common solution that makes both parties content, right? Introduce a compromise by including both opinions in your solution. Comfort employees by showing that they are being heard. Stress the importance of meeting a common goal, even though the conflict is in place.

    Bottom line — the only way out of the conflict is a new solution, and it takes compassion, creativity, and boldness to come up with one.

    Learn a lesson and determine ways to handle conflict in the future

    Once you’ve identified differing opinions, listened to your team members, and found a solution, determine the ground rules for handling conflict. How will you deal with similar situations in the future? What are the preventative strategies? Who will be responsible for conflict management? How will you communicate in a team?

    Once the conflict is nulled and you proceed with your work, evaluate how things changed in the team. How did the conflict affect your performance as a company? Access the mental health of your employees to make sure they are ready to work. You might want to plan a follow up meeting to talk to the involved parties, or talk to them privately. 

    Stay humane

    No matter the nature of a conflict and its depth, the best strategy in addressing it remains to just stay humane. Understand that other people have their own backgrounds, beliefs, ups and downs — and differences, of course. Be patient with both yourself and others. Try to stay compassionate and understanding, and act in an honest manner.

    As you communicate, comfort a colleague that you know is going through hard times in their personal life. Keep an overall positive attitude and believe that your team will only grow stronger once you settle the conflict. As the saying goes, treat others the way you want to be treated. This will allow for a safe, warm work environment which will in turn add to the company’s success. 

    Four vital conflict don’ts

    Sometimes, when you don’t know what to do when conflict arises, it pays to know what not to do. Let’s list some approaches you don’t want to use in conflict management:

    • Don’t blame, shame, or criticize. Instead, approach conflict in a calm way and try to understand the differences between parties.
    • Don’t use offensive language. Treat every employee in a polite way.
    • Don’t bring up the past. Rather, stick to the subject and possible solutions that you have now.
    • Don’t try to be superior or right by any means.

    Key takeaways

    Let’s list some of the key principles that will help you resolve conflict in the workplace.

    • Resolution process starts with changing your attitude: instead of avoiding conflict, embrace it as a part of team growth.
    • To handle workplace conflict, ensure effective communication between all parties, and employ your active listening skills.
    • Try to not be too emotional or take things personally, pay attention to people’s body language as they talk.
    • When resolving conflict, discover the expectations of your employees and decide on the solution that will fit all.
    • Once you find common ground, lay down the rules for handling similar situations in the future.
    • On top of that, stay humane and employ your communication skills to better understand all the disputing parts of the conflict.

    Working with designers? Explore our take on 12 things you should never say to a graphic designer — unless you want them to quit.

    Mariia Shnyrkova

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