Conflict Resolution Management Skills

Conflicts are an unavoidable part of the workplace. Even the most positive environments will occasionally end up with people who are at odds with one another. Rather than viewing conflict as a negative situation, you can use it as an opportunity to improve communication, interpersonal relationships, and the company and team culture. Quality conflict resolution skills go a long way towards realizing these benefits.

What is Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is the steps that you take to address a conflict between two or more people. A direct report may have a conflict with you, or with other employees. Being able to peacefully come to a compromise between all of the parties is an essential part of being a leader. There are several parts to successful conflict resolution:

  • Understanding the causes of conflicts

  • Developing conflict resolution skills

  • Leveraging conflict management tools

Once these three areas are covered, you are in an excellent position to field the conflicts that come up over the course of your career. You can get a reputation as a peacemaker who finds a fair compromise for situations that come up.

What Causes Conflict

The sources of conflict within an organization or a team depends on many factors, from the way people interact with each other, their ages, the industry they work in, whether they’re under stress, or if someone is experiencing burn out. Certain times of the year may be worse for some team members, or they could be going through personal issues that make them more prone to being in conflict. Here are some of the most common situations that create conflict.

Poor Communication Skills

Miscommunications are one of the main causes of conflict. When people disagree on policies, procedures, schedules, tasks, and other details, it can easily escalate into an argument that strains relationships and puts your team behind on deadlines. You may also encounter employees who simply have a hard time communicating with their coworkers, and may come off as aggressive or passive-aggressive. Sometimes trying to talk with one another is an exercise in frustration. If the company has an inefficient or obsolete digital communication tools or phone lines that go down frequently, then trying to convey information is its own stressor.

Mismatched Expectations

Everyone needs to operate off of the same set of expectations, or their assumptions can lead to infighting. If two staff members have wildly different expectations about who is responsible for what, the tasks that are priorities, and the time required to do each item on the list, then they can find themselves in an unexpected conflict. When everyone is on the same page and understands one another, then there are fewer opportunities for conflict to emerge.

Unrealistic Workloads

Long stints of overtime or being in crunch mode constantly will wear talent out. They’re not able to take a long-term look at a project or the tasks that they’re doing. They have to operate in the moment at all times, without a minute to catch their breaths. The stress and burnout can create an environment that’s ripe for conflict. People may be short-tempered, aggressive, frustrated, and have poor judgment.

Personality Issues

Some people have personalities that are destined to clash, such as two highly competitive team members. There are a few ways to work around this type of situation, such as shifting people to different departments or teams, helping them figure out ways to work together, and finding common ground where they can relate to one another.

Sometimes the personality problems are so extreme that it creates a toxic work environment. You may experience significant turnover among talented people who can’t deal with the negativity getting thrown around. Other people’s productivity may plummet and burnout can increase.

Defensive Reactions

Some employees may take constructive criticism and other forms of feedback as a personal attack. When their work or ideas don’t get the expected reaction, they may take a defensive stance and try to argue about why they’re right. Managing conflict means reassuring the person that the feedback is meant as a way to help them, rather than to take issue with what they're doing.

Lack of Consistency

How often do workflows, policies, and procedures change in your organization? If workers need to relearn how to do basic work tasks on a regular basis, then they’ll never figure out a routine that works best for their personal productivity. Misunderstandings about new ways of doing things can lead to conflicts, especially if the new policies can be interpreted in different ways.

Concern about the Past Repeating

Employees’ perspectives are not based solely on what they experience in your work environment. They’re bringing all of their past professional and personal history with them, which can have a major impact on whether they’re likely to cause conflict, are conflict averse, and what that looks like for them. Toxic work environments, abusive coworkers and bosses, and other bad experiences can lead someone to react poorly in conflict situations. When you know where the person is coming from, and potential reminders that could elicit these reactions, then you can effectively work with that to create a workable conflict resolution method for everyone involved.

Essential Conflict Resolution Skills

Part of conflict management is having the right skills at your disposal to respond appropriately to each situation. To resolve conflict, it's not a one-size-fits-all process. The dynamics between people, the team, and the company as a whole all come into play and should be considered throughout the process. Some people get frustrated, let all of that aggression out, and they are perfectly fine to continue on their day. Others end up thinking about the conflict for days, weeks, or months afterward. All of their subsequent interactions are colored by an unresolved conflict, which can create a passive-aggressive environment. Here are some of the most important skills you should have to address conflict effectively and efficiently.

  • Mindset shift: Start with the way you think about conflict. Do you view it as a necessary evil when you bring employees together in a group setting? Are you dreading dealing with it because it eats up all of your time and gets in the way of other tasks? If you bring that approach to conflicts, it can lead to escalation, either through inactivity or a negative way of handling the situation. View each conflict as a way to learn more about the way your team members operate, what they need to contribute in a meaningful way, and the ways they respond to a course correction.

  • Active listening: You can’t fix problems when you don’t know exactly what’s going on. It’s important to listen to each party, ask clarifying questions, and dig into what’s going on. Find out if there are extenuating circumstances that could lead to an uncharacteristic outburst, or look for external factors that may be influencing your team. You’re going to spend a lot less time talking than the other people involved in the conflict, as you want them to feel heard at this moment. Once you have both sides of the story, you can develop a method that will resolve the conflict for everyone.

  • Facilitating conversations: Part of active listening is facilitating the conversation and encouraging each person to talk through what happened. They may discover insights on their own that clear up miscommunications or lead to a better understanding of what went on. Asking the right questions at the right time will progress the narrative and lead everyone to a resolution.

  • Empathy: You need to be able to put yourself in a person’s shoes and understand why they’re reacting the way that they are, and what they need to support each party in the conflict. You want to be able to relate to them and ensure that what they’re saying is being heard and acknowledged.

  • Mediating between team members: Another valuable skill in conflict resolution is being able to effectively mediate between team members when they have conflicts with one another. It takes a lot of work to get two upset team members to sit down and have a productive conversation. When you can smooth everything over in a mediation setting, then it’s much easier to resolve conflicts before they get out of hand.

  • Accountability: If you’re one of the people involved in the conflict, it’s important to take accountability for your actions. You may not have intended to cause an issue, but something went wrong and you want to own up for it. When you lead by example and take responsibility for escalating a situation, you show team members how healthy conflict resolution is achieved.

  • Transparency: Transparency is another skill that’s useful to develop for conflict management. When you’re transparent about the decisions you make regarding resolving a conflict between team members, then you can avoid accusations of favoring one party or being biased towards another person.

  • Authenticity: Stand behind your conflict resolution methods and be authentic with your team. They don’t want to hear you go over a scripted, one-size-fits-all approach to addressing their concerns. Make it personal to the situation and everyone involved. This customized approach takes into account the unique situation that each person finds themselves in and the way they handle conflict.

  • Change management: If the arguments are getting set off by changes in policies, procedures, and other areas of the workplace, then pushing for better change management is essential. Change management is the process that an organization uses to handle large-scale changes, such as new software being deployed or revamped policies. Employees get the training and information that they need to adjust to the new way of doing things, as well as opportunities to provide feedback as the front-line end users that are most impacted by it.

  • Emotional intelligence: You may be blessed with innate emotional intelligence or need to develop this over time. Focusing on emotional intelligence allows you to recognize many useful clues into how your team members are feeling, whether they’re truly satisfied with your resolutions and whether they’re not being completely transparent about what happened. You can also use this skill to improve workplace relationships in general, as this is often a characteristic that is common in a people person.

  • Understanding when it’s time to cut your losses: Sometimes it’s impossible to fix a problem between two or more people. Every time they have to interact, you feel lucky it didn’t come to blows. There are loud, drawn-out arguments, passive-aggressive remarks, and other behavior that lead to a negative work environment. Sometimes you simply need to transfer people to a different department or, depending on the nature of their toxic behavior, fire them outright.

Conflict Management Tools

There are several types of conflict management tools that support your efforts in handling your team and fixing issues before they create lasting damage.

Better Communication Tools

How hard is it for people to communicate important messages to one another? If you have a mix of on-site and remote workers, is there a chat channel set up or instant messenger services that make it easy to send a message? Do people have alternatives to stepping away from their desk to ask questions, such as internal phone extensions or a reliable email server? Look for ways that your current communication technology is impeding people from discussing work matters easily. When they encounter a lot of frustration in this area, they may skip out on having a conversation about important things.

Improved Conflict Resolution Managers Availability

What does your schedule look like throughout the day? Do you have availability to meet with team members one-on-one to discuss conflicts, or are you in meetings and doing other tasks that take you away from your desk, email, and other communication channels? Try to free up a consistent time slot so your team knows that you’ll always be available to talk with them. When you offer open communication channels, you can increase the likelihood that someone will come to you first before a conflict escalates out of hand.

Proactively Addressing Conflict

Once you have the tools and systems in place for conflict resolution, try to get ahead of it if possible. You’ll learn the tell-tale signs that your team has before someone is about to get into an incident. When you can step in as soon as you recognize these signs, you can create a more positive work environment and reduce the chances that the conflict will cause lasting harm to the parties involved.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Being conflict-avoidant leads to much larger problems later on. The work environment has a tension that never quite goes away, and it can drive off-key talent and lead to lower productivity. You may fail to get the respect that you expect because the team doesn’t look upon conflict avoidance as a favorable trait. Your reputation could be damaged as a manager, which can lead to issues with upward mobility. Get rid of your fear and discomfort when it comes to calling out conflict when it’s appropriate.

Broaden Perspective Through Coaching and Technology

Sometimes an external perspective is important to finding out the reasons behind conflict and creating resolution methods that are favorable for your team and common situations you encounter. A third-party coaching service, especially one backed by powerful technology that delivers actionable insights, makes it possible to have an objective view of everyone involved in a conflict. One such service, Cloverleaf, does an excellent job of combining personalized coaching with data-driven insights so you’re empowered to handle your team during any level of conflict.

How Does Cloverleaf Help

Team conflicts can lead to many short and long-term issues in an organization, so having tried and tested conflict management methods in place is an essential part of improving the work environment and team dynamics. Conflict management is one of the biggest parts of being a manager. Cloverleaf is a versatile conflict solution that prepares you for each possible incident through conflict prevention and in-the-moment insights.

Cloverleaf guides your company to understand the characteristics of top-performing teams and what you need to do to get to that point. Their expertise and outside perspective can show you insights that you’re not able to see when you’re in the middle of infighting within or between teams, departments, and individuals.

We have an integrated approach that uses assessment data and conflict resolution coaching to develop a process that fits your organization’s unique needs. You end up with stronger team relationships and productivity over time, along with happier overall workers.

One area that we excel in is discovering the “why” behind conflicts. We dig deep into the circumstances surrounding the conflict to gain a full understanding of what’s going on, whether external forces are escalating the situation and recommendations on how to handle the individuals or teams.

We help you stand out in your industry and make it possible to increase the value that you provide your customers. Our automated solutions result in actionable insights that empower you with the information you need to create lasting behavior change. It becomes easier to communicate with empathy and eliminate the barriers that stand between you and getting a conflict resolved.

It's important to understand that conflicts are not a result of you failing as a manager. Instead, it's a natural part of working with people and helping them become the best that they can be in their careers. Conflict resolution managers are a valuable asset for all organizations.

The Cloverleaf Team