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Published On: Thu, Jan 18th, 2024

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace: Strategies for Managers

Employees in the US spend somewhere around 2.8 hours each week in workplace conflict. In terms of lost productivity, this adds up to a full day each month — or 2.5 weeks each year — and a collective $359 billion annually for the nation.

Conflict can arise between employees and their supervisors, between coworkers, or even between managers themselves. In addition to lower productivity, these disputes in the workplace lead to lower employee morale and higher turnover rates.

“Managing conflict is an essential part of the manager’s role,” claims Shiela Mie Legaspi, President of Cyberbacker. “It can also be one of the most difficult aspects of a manager’s job. Leaders must have strategies in place to prevent conflict and deal with it quickly when it arises.”

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The role of managers in resolving workplace conflicts

Conflict is a normal and natural part of every workplace that arises when two or more people simply don’t see eye-to-eye or when groups or organizations take opposing views on an issue.

“As a manager, you’re responsible for the safety and well-being of your employees,” Legaspi remarks. “Unresolved conflict between coworkers can cause stress, which can lead to physical or emotional harm, and negatively impact organizational productivity and employee morale.”

Conflicts that are resolved quickly and easily tend to have less impact than those that build over time. Managers must first listen carefully and objectively. “When you first become aware of a conflict between two employees or groups, take time to listen carefully before jumping in with advice or judgment,” says Legaspi.

Next, Instead of trying to solve things immediately or handing down orders, managers can ask questions like “What happened?” and “How did this make everyone feel?” This will start the conversation and uncover the issue without assigning blame or making people feel defensive.

Encouraging open communication and active listening

Active listening is an essential tool for conflict resolution. “Listening actively means really understanding what the other person is saying and not just waiting for your turn to speak,” says Legaspi. “When you learn to understand another person’s feelings and perspectives, conflict tends to deescalate.”

By listening attentively and rephrasing what was said to check for understanding, managers can encourage employees to listen carefully when others are speaking and take time before responding. This will allow them to think through what is being said without jumping to conclusions.

Active listening also encourages open communication. “Encourage the people you manage to communicate openly and honestly with each other and with you,” Legaspi says. “If something in the workplace needs to be addressed, don’t be afraid to ask questions or take feedback on how things could be improved. If you want your team to resolve conflicts effectively and efficiently, you need them to feel comfortable talking about issues that arise.”

Implementing mediation and negotiation techniques

A number of techniques help managers resolve conflict in the workplace, and mediation is an alternative to traditional arbitration or negotiation. This approach involves bringing together two or more parties in dispute and working with an impartial mediator or third party to help them reach an agreement.

Mediation is a voluntary process in which both sides agree to participate, and there are no penalties if they don’t reach an agreement. Everything said during the process is confidential so that both parties feel free to express themselves without fear of repercussions.

Fostering a culture of respect and collaboration

One of the best strategies for dealing with conflict proactively is creating a respectful workplace. “You can’t expect your employees to solve problems if they feel disrespected by you or their colleagues,” Legaspi explains, “so model the behavior you want to see. If you want your team to be respectful and collaborative, set the tone by modeling those behaviors yourself. When dealing with conflict, avoid blaming or attacking. Instead, model constructive feedback that helps employees improve their performance.”

A culture of respect encourages employees to work together. Teams will disagree from time to time, but differences can often be resolved if there’s an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. When people work together toward a common goal, they’re more likely to develop relationships and solve problems in ways that benefit everyone involved.

Maintaining neutrality and objectivity during conflict resolution

Managers should never take sides when dealing with employee conflicts. Though often called to mediate and resolve disputes, they must avoid becoming emotionally involved.

“As a manager, your role is to establish a fair, objective, and effective process,” says Legaspi. “Maintain neutrality and objectivity throughout the entire process.”

When managers deal with conflict, it’s best not to offer opinions. In the role of a facilitator, they can more easily help both parties reach an agreement without bias or prejudice.

“Remain calm,” advises Legaspi. “Don’t let emotions cloud your judgment or interfere with your ability to listen and evaluate objectively.”

Setting clear expectations and boundaries for acceptable behavior

It’s essential to set clear expectations for acceptable behavior. For example, a manager might open a meeting with a gentle reminder, like “I expect that everyone in this meeting will be respectful of one another’s ideas and opinions,” or “Remember, we have all agreed on a set of rules regarding how we will interact with each other.”

“As a manager, you are responsible for setting boundaries in the workplace,” advises Legaspi. “If an employee violates those guidelines, address it immediately.”

Following up and monitoring progress after conflict resolution

After dealing with conflict, managers must set a time to follow up with all parties involved. This allows everyone to address issues before they become problems again.

“Your goal is to make sure everyone feels heard and understood,” Legaspi explains. “Ask everyone how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help. Moving forward, monitor the situation to prevent future issues.”

Every organization encounters conflict, but the key is spotting these problems before they escalate. Managers can help by fostering an environment that encourages open communication and active listening, implementing mediation techniques to resolve disagreements, maintaining objectivity throughout the process, and checking in later to ensure the conflict is truly resolved.

Author: Rohan Singh

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