If you are a team leader, supervisor, or project manager, it is your job to keep your team on track. Sometimes disruptive conflicts can arise between team members. By using these conflict management strategies, you can resolve the dispute and keep everyone working well together.
1. Understand Your Team
Everyone comes to work with a different set of skills, personality traits, and behaviors. That includes conflict management strategies. Do your team members back away until the dust settles, or are they focused on being right? Knowing your team’s learned tendencies can help you direct them toward a collaborative solution and minimizes ongoing conflict.
2. Lay the Ground Rules for Conflict Management Early
Your team should understand how to address conflict long before a dispute arises. Develop clear conflict resolution procedures, including anti-harassment policies. These ground rules tell employees what is expected of them, and what to do when they are having a problem at work. They may be as simple as inviting each person to speak during meetings, or as formal as an filing an HR harassment complaint.
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3. Listen to Understand, Not Respond
Encourage everyone on your team to really listen to one another. Often, our culture encourages us to listen only deeply enough to respond. Developing our response distracts us from what the other person is saying and can easily lead to miscommunication. Set the standard that silence between speakers is okay and expected. This will allow people to actively listen first, and then develop a response.
4. Address Conflict Privately
Often, conflict can bubble up publicly even when the root of the problem is private. If you call a person out for their behavior in front of their coworkers, it can escalate the problem. Embarrassment, shame, and anger may interfere with your conflict management efforts. Instead, take each employee aside and ask about what they are feeling and why. Then make space for a private conflict discussion that brings everyone involved together in a safe, confidential way.
5. Clearly Define the Goal of Any Conflict Resolution Meetings
Help your team members clearly define the root of the conflict, focusing on the issues, rather than what either person “always does” or “never says.” Once you have clearly identified the problem, invite each participant to define what successful conflict management would look like. Ask: what do they want to know, see, or feel at the end of the session?
6. Be Willing to Take Breaks
Sometimes your employees will need to take breaks to let their emotions cool or prepare their response. You may also need to investigate the situation before finding a solution. Be willing to take breaks and return to conflict resolution after 10 minutes, or 10 days, as suits the situation, but always be clear about when the next meeting will happen.
7. Investigate the Situation
Everyone involved should take time to investigate the issue, and possible solutions. In cases of workplace harassment, an employer has a legal duty to investigate and respond to the complaint. However, in other disputes, encouraging each participant to investigate the other’s concerns can help build empathy and understanding over the source of the conflict.
8. Invite Participates to Propose Solutions
Conflict management is not about solving problems, its making space for your workers to find solutions together. Invite your team members to propose and discuss possible solutions. This encourages collaboration, rather than taking an authoritative stance about what must happen.
9. Agree on Win-Win Solutions
Rather than looking for a compromise – where each person gives something up – try to develop a solution where each person gets something they are looking for. Try not to think of conflict in zero-sum terms. Instead, encourage team members to create and agree on win-win solutions that move the entire team forward.
10. Bring in a Neutral Facilitator
Sometimes, even the best team leader needs help resolving conflict at work. It is okay to ask for help when you are personally involved, the situation has escalated, or you have reached an impasse. Hiring a consultant with an expertise in conflict resolution to act as a neutral facilitator can help team members separate personal histories from the present dispute and keep everyone focused on conflict management and resolution.
David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience helping team leaders learn management skills. Through one-on-one executive coaching and conflict resolution, David helps managers guide teams forward. Contact us to meet with David and advance your professional development today.