Conflict is bound to happen in the workplace. Anytime two people have competing desires, conflict ensues and continues until they compromise or one party succumbs. Unfortunately, sometimes a conflict stays active when parties fail to recognize the true source of disagreement or clashing concerns. Managing conflict is by no means easy, but it is necessary, and you should approach it logically and compassionately.
Lead with compassion and empathy. While it might seem contradictory to have compassion in the workplace, it's actually the most crucial step in finding resolution. At the root of every conflict are real people with real desires, insecurities and needs. Listen to each party and make sure you fully understand each position, complaint and desire before moving forward.
Facilitate discussion and mediate that conversation. If you're a leader and you want to manage a conflict, you cannot simply arbitrate the decision for all parties involved and expect the conflict to be over. Instead, create a forum for voices to be heard by setting up a meeting. Set parameters at the beginning. For example, explain that each party will have plenty of time to respond, so there is no need to interrupt or react. Explain that the overall goal is to come to some kind of compromise where everyone receives fair treatment. If one party resists this scenario, you'll know that the goal is not to come to a solution. If ongoing conflict is the goal of one party, then deal with that behavior singularly.
Stay aware. To manage conflict, you have to recognize it, and the longer it festers unnoticed, the more complex it becomes. That's because those embroiled in a conflict begin to see through the lens of that conflict, interpreting words and actions in a biased way. As soon as you sense tension in the workplace, open your ears and listen closely to find out what's wrong. Sometimes, conflict is normal and healthy. For instance, two co-workers might be in conflict about who will receive a promotion. The tension between them is natural but should be kept at a professional level. As a manager, if you sense that two colleagues have approaches that constantly create conflict, don't put them together on a project. For example, if one is more of a logical extrovert who charges toward solutions, and one is a sensory-oriented introvert who is slow and detailed about work, the two may not work well together on a project that requires close collaboration.
- If listening, discussing and attempting to compromise all fail, solicit an outsider to help mediate the problem. Hire a professional counselor or manager to come in and strategically work with your colleagues. If you're not in a position to hire someone, make a proposal or find someone within your company who doesn't work directly in your department, such as an HR representative or a manager from another department.
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