Conflict is an unavoidable part of working in any office. People are all different, with personal lives affecting their daily attitudes and patience levels. When problems arise at work, differences and outside factors will lead to the need for good conflict management. This task falls to the leaders, and it is crucial for any good office culture that you are prepared for how to handle this inevitability. These essential tips will help you keep the office in harmony.
1. Become an Expert Listener
The most crucial tip for conflict management in the office is to become an expert listener. Every conflict has multiple sides, and you must hear and understand what each side has to say. Great listening gives you a better understanding of the problem and ensures that everyone involved feels validated and appreciated. Nothing makes conflict worse like one side feeling ignored or misunderstood.
The best way to improve your listening skills right away is to reevaluate your goal when listening. You shouldn’t be trying to determine who is correct, but rather to find a solution that all parties can agree with.
2. Keep the Focus on the Facts
Conflict management often involves a balance of problem-solving and soothing ruffled emotions. One of the best ways to get your team past any emotional issues at hand is to keep everyone focused on the facts. When discussing the problem, be sure to clarify all the points being made and then repeat back to the team the facts of the situation. Sometimes all people need to hear is the nitty-gritty to realize that a solution was right there all along.
3. Keep Discussions Private and Safe
If you need to have further conversations with team members that just cannot agree, do so in a private, neutral space. Conflict management shouldn’t occur in the open, where parties may feel they need to hold back what they genuinely think to save face in front of their colleagues. Offer a meeting space, and consider bringing HR representatives to provide a feeling of security if needed.
4. Determine the Source of the Conflict
There are several different causes of conflict in the workplace. Knowing what the root is of this one may help you find the right solution.
- Poor Use of Communication: Conflict often stems from misunderstandings that can be cleared up with better communication.
- Different Values: People value different things in life, and that extends to the workplace. You may need to help team members see and understand what each party values most.
- A Lack of Resources: Are your team members competing for resources that they need to solve problems? This could be a source of conflict.
- Personalities Clashing: Unfortunately, there may be times when conflict management is required to help employees look past personality clashes to get the work done.
5. Do Your Own Investigation
There may be times when you need to investigate the problem yourself after hearing all the parties’ concerns. In this case, be sure to communicate clearly with everyone involved how you will be investigating the problem and when they can expect to speak with you again. This assures everyone that you are taking the problem seriously.
6. Meet a Common Goal
When devising the solution to any conflict, management’s goal should always be the common interest of everyone involved. There may not always be a “right” answer. After you’ve identified the source of the conflict and addressed any underlying issues, reframe the goal of the project, department, or task at hand. Then brainstorm with the team members how the common goal can be met.
7. Assign Responsibilities in the Solution
This is a critical step when creating a solution in conflict management. Imagine you’ve successfully heard everyone’s concerns, investigated the problem, identified the root cause of the conflict, and have brainstormed a solution to meet the goal with everyone involved. Great! Now what?
The next step in your solution should be assigning each person a specific responsibility as part of the solution. Each employee should know exactly what they need to be doing to complete the agreed-upon solution. This crucial step eliminates further conflict because each person knows what they should be doing and can focus on their task.
8. Communicate Face-to-Face
When dealing with conflict in your office, it’s tempting to keep all communication in written form. Having a “paper trail” is often encouraged to ensure that every issue was addressed for future reference. However, people often find that their emotional responses to conflict are better soothed in person. Try to address conflict face-to-face when possible. Write an email or document after the meeting summarizing the discussion, any significant points that were made, and any outstanding actions that need to be taken before the conflict can be resolved.
9. Schedule Follow Up Meetings
An essential part of conflict management is following up after the solution has been discussed. This helps ensure that issue truly was resolved and that the parties are satisfied with how issues were handled. You can use these follow-ups to refine your approach for future needs by asking for feedback from the employees involved.
10. Take a Time Out
If all else fails, it’s never a bad idea to give everyone time to breathe. Conflict management can become emotional, and no reasonable solutions will happen when the focus is taken off the facts. If productivity has come to a halt due to emotions, take a time out. Keep it short – no more than a day – and ask everyone to summarize their points on paper for the next meeting. When you meet again, repeat the problem as you understand it and encourage a calmer approach.
Develop Your Conflict Management Plan
Avoiding conflict is often the best way to handle conflict management in the first place. However, there is no fool-proof way to prevent any conflict from ever happening in your office. Use these tips to develop an action plan so that you are ready when conflict does arise.