conflict management leaders

Conflict Management for Leaders

Posted November 26th, 2021

Conflict management can be defined as the ability to identify and handle conflicts efficiently and fairly.

Workplace conflicts are inevitable, and no matter how brilliant your team are at what they do, every organisation will experience conflict. When people from different backgrounds and with different life experiences are put in a high-pressure work environment, it’s no surprise that conflict can arise.

When we talk about workplace conflict, we are referring to disagreements and arguments over a work-related issue. These are often rooted in clashing ideas, differences of opinion, misunderstandings, or even personal grievances.

When the conflicting parties are not able to find a solution, it is normal for them to turn to their leader or supervisor to help them find a resolution. As a leader, making rash and biased decisions yourself to put a quick end to the issue does not help your teams manage the conflict themselves or develop methods of communication for the next time a disagreement occurs. Making a quick decision based on your own opinions or instincts can also harm the workplace environment and employee morale. The party that the leader has sided against may feel undervalued and not listened to.

As a leader your job is to help bridge the gap between the two parties and encourage a healthy and productive method of communication until compromise or middle ground can be met. Not only do workplace conflicts damage the work environment, but they also impact productivity, which can cost businesses valuable time, money, and resources. Managing conflict can be difficult, but it is possible to turn these moments into positive outcomes.

Whilst hostility and arguments are damaging, especially if they become commonplace, some conflicts of opinion can help to bring positive changes to the workplace. Improving the environment can positively impact productivity and revenue.

We’ve compiled a handful of tips to help you, as a leader, manage the conflict of others as a mediator to help reduce hostility, and find an outcome that not only works for everyone, but most importantly benefits the organisation. 

  1. Find the cause. This most likely goes without saying, but it’s important that before you do anything else, you find the root of the issue. What was the catalyst in the disagreement? What was the task at hand when the conflict occurred? To help, you must understand the situation.
  1. Atmosphere. It’s imperative that you create an open and healthy environment that is constructive and seeking to solve the problem. Make it clear to your team/colleagues that you are one team and working together to find a solution. Remember, you are not mediating a debate.
  1. Hear both sides. Give both parties an opportunity to express their side of the situation. It’s imperative that you practice active listening so that your team feels truly heard.

Of course, you are human, and you are bound to have your own thoughts and opinions on the matter at hand. Whilst you may be naturally inclined to side more with one party, it’s essential that you put these feelings aside. Putting aside your own assumptions will make you more open to both perspectives.

Depending on the situation, it may be more appropriate to speak to each party separately before bringing them together. This is at your own discretion as a leader, but by a rule of thumb, if the conflict involves only 2 people, or one party is made up of a lone individual, it will probably be best to speak to them alone first. In these situations, there are often personal emotions involved and these things can be difficult to express in a group setting.

  1. Try to bridge the gap and help healthy communication. It is not your job to solve everything, you are effectively trying to guide your team in solving the issue themselves. Building communication channels will hopefully limit future conflicts and will also create a better general environment which in turn means less tension.

Encourage everyone involved to recognise that there are always going to be different opinions. Then, look for shared points of agreement. Find a common ground between both parties and build from there. 

  1. Goal identification. Ultimately, you must make the organisational goals a priority. Having previously established the cause of the conflict, you should be able to identify the end goals. Help your employees generate new ideas that will bring you to your goal. 
  1. Action Plan. As you generate solutions, express your gratitude to every employee for their contribution. Make sure everyone is clear on what the next steps are. Consider arranging another meeting with your employees to discuss progress. 

What makes managing conflict so tricky is that it is both a short-term and long-term issue. When conflicts arise, there is a need to find a solution to the problem at hand, but there is also a need to identify the environment that may have facilitated a hostile situation. Sometimes, there is no bad blood or disrespect, and you may only be concerned with the immediate issue that has perhaps arisen from a difference of opinion. In these cases, try to work with your employees to find a solution together.

When the situation is particularly hostile, you need to consider the overall environment. This is often the case, as the primary causes of workplace conflict are seen as personality clashes and warring egos (49%) [SOURCE]. As a leader you can seek create a healthy and open environment where everyone feels valued. You cannot force people to be friends, but you can commit to making your workplace a respectful one where disrespect and gossip is not tolerated.

If the conflict has arisen over an issue with severe time pressure, in most cases you will have the final say. Whilst this is not encouraged, as evidenced above, if it is the case that a quick decision needs to be made, make sure you still hear both sides of the situation, and try to help your teams understand why you made the decision that you did.

In the end, conflict management is an ongoing job for a leader. Developing skills in managing conflict in the workplace happens through self-awareness, communication, respect, and appreciation for others skillsets. Encouraging regular communication with employees and frequently considering how the work environment feels for your teams should help you keep conflict to a minimum.

One way to minimise conflict is to help your teams understand conflict better and how they can play a part in minimising it is by providing them with our highly interactive and engaging e-learning course on dealing with conflict. Learn more here.

For those that want to run a classroom training course on the topic, we offer conflict management training course materials here.


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