Conflict management is the act of identifying conflict between two parties in a particular setting, whether that be work or at home, and having the ability or skill to handle the situation sensibly, efficiently and fairly.

As we've mentioned, conflicts don't just arise in business, however, the very nature of a professional environment whereby people of all backgrounds, pay grades, aspirations and so on, are all thrown into the mix, there's bound to be some level of conflict. In this article, we will focus on resolving conflict in the workplace to enable you to approach negativity at work from a new angle and perspective.

With conflict being natural, quite common, even, in the workplace, it's vital that people are made aware of how best to deal with this before it ends in a dispute carrying some impact on the person's reputation and job security.

Conflict usually arises when different individuals with varied interests or opinions are unable to stand back and see the bigger picture.

A lack of compromise usually stems from somebody believing that their way of thinking is right and that everyone else is wrong and, when faced with a likewise strong-willed person, this can lead to tensions and fighting. There can be no positive outcome when it comes to conflict, only negativity at not being able to reach a mutually agreed conclusion.

The only way to resolve conflict, therefore, is to take a step back and control the situation to avoid a disruptive disagreement. This can be quite daunting and difficult for people who feel they don't have a strong bone in their body.

Of course, a difference in opinion can be great for a company, productive, even. But there are limits to how far people can be stretched and even the most ruthless of managers know this!

Whether you are an assistant, a manager, or a business owner, you should be skilled in the ability to resolve conflict before it gets out of hand.

If you aren't happy at work it can make your feel stuck.
Being involved in conflict at work can make you feel like you are in a dark tunnel. Photo credit: darkday. on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Understanding Conflict Management Skills

Conflict is unavoidable, but how we deal with such disagreements is entirely within our power.

How well you are able to deal with conflict could be the making of you professionally, for instance being able to respond positively and dissolve a situation before it becomes heated could make the difference in you being a people person and reaching the top of your game, or somebody unlikeable who fails to progress because of their negative attitude.

Managers in business often have their own style of conflict management, proving that there is no one key answer to getting this right.

Each situation is different and depends on a range of contributing factors: the people involved, the subject matter, the location, the time pressure, etc... and therefore those involved will need to react and respond in the moment. This doesn't mean you must be a pushover and sit back quietly whilst others shout louder and get heard, there's a balance to performing this skill just right.

So, let's consider some of the different styles you might or might not have seen, or been party to.

Some managers might be too accommodating, at times to their own detriment (when it comes to their personal goals and objectives within the business) however, sometimes, this is the only way when the other person is more knowledgeable or is, quite simply, right.

Others may avoid a situation or conversation altogether, which can be damaging to their reputation as they are never challenged to be assertive and to show their leadership skills. While this does not help the manager or their staff to overcome challenges and reach goals, it can be effective if the issue in question is trivial and not worth the wasted time and energy.

Finally, others may simply go into attack mode and become extremely assertive in their desires without being considerate of other employees, usually because it is an emergency and they know that time is of the essence. Being seemingly unreasonable may lose them some fans along the way, but it could potentially gain them great respect if their decision was right all along because taking time over it could have resulted in an unnecessary, drawn-out conflict.

So, whether you are a collaborator, a compromiser, or a competitor by nature, you'll see that there's no easy way around the issue of conflict and ultimately someone has to lose, and some of the time it has to be you.

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Why Is Managing Conflict Important?

So, why is it important to manage conflict?

For any organisation, the goal is to keep being productive and making money and the only way to do this and sustain this growth is to have happy staff. As such, no company wants conflict on their premises.

In order to get maximum productivity from workers, there can be no space for arguing with one another or criticising each other.

Thus, conflict management skills play a very important role in business to allow everyone to concentrate fully on their workload. Whilst managers need to be on top of their staff members' job satisfaction, it is not simply team leaders or those with managerial duties to abide by these unwritten rules. Everyone in a business must do their part to avoid conflict and this could be as simple as sticking to their own responsibilities and not interfering in other people's work.

Looking towards the positives, conflict management helps employees to create bonds by automatically dispelling half, if not more, of the problems that could otherwise have created a wedge between them. Coming out of the other end of conflict can sometimes lead to greater respect for one another and improved relationships inside and outside of the workplace.

If conflict management is handled appropriately, stress disappears from the workplace and employees are left feeling motivated and happy in their roles.

Conflict Management Strategies

So we've discovered where conflict arises, and the different styles of managing conflict in the long-term, but how should you react to conflict in the moment - the here and now - when the situation is put right in front of you?

Below are some suggestions on how to tackle real-life conflict in the workplace, but these ideas could also be applied to any other areas in life where conflict can cause issues.

If you can resolve conflict then you can have great relationships in and out of work.
Getting on is so important to getting a job done. Photo on VisualHunt.com

How To Manage Conflict In The Workplace

  • Talk: We have the intellectual power to communicate verbally - so let's use it! Hoping that a colleague will sense or see that you are visibly annoyed and upset is a very childish approach to professional life. The best thing you can do for everyone involved is to air your concerns and discuss any issues.
  • Listen: Just as important, you should listen very carefully to those around you. It may be that you've indirectly caused some kind of upset without even realising it, and therefore by listening and giving your events of the story could help to shut down any negative atmosphere. Though you may have questions, which you are entitled to ask, allow the other person to talk uninterrupted to let them get their point across with being aggravated.
  • Agree to disagree: There are times when two people simply can't compromise, but that doesn't mean they need to be knocking heads at work. Sometimes, you just need to agree to disagree on certain points and find a way to meet in the middle.
  • Prioritise: It is nonsensical to argue over unimportant issues, so try to prioritise the areas of conflict and then make the effort to let the small things go.

Now Over To You: How Do YOU Successfully Resolve Conflict?

You may be reading this and thinking "I don't deal with drama like this at work" but, in actual fact, when you continue reading you'll probably come to realise that you deal with conflict in numerous different ways at work, often without even recognising it.

In some ways, conflict management is not about having a certain set of skills - it is just common sense and having pride in your work and yourself. However, other times you must work very hard to successfully resolve a conflict, and it's these times that you best showcase how skilled you are as a manager or potential leader.

Employers are aware that not everyone gets along all the time. Hence why they want to be sure that you are the type of person who can respond to conflict sensibly and diplomatically. Below are some sample questions that you will very likely be asked (or have been asked) in an interview:

Would you know how to dissolve potentially damaging situations at work?
Check out our list of sample job interview questions about resolving conflict at work. Photo credit: Alex France on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

Have you ever had an issue with a co-worker and, if so, how did you resolve it?

When asked this question, your interview panel is wanting to know about your instinctive behaviour. Answering "I never have any issues with colleagues" is a bit flat, and quite unbelievable in truth. You are better off being honest and thinking back to an incident where you and somebody you work with had a disagreement but you were able to resolve the issue amongst yourselves. 

Don't see this as a negative or trick question, the interviewer is giving you the opportunity here to share a story of success and to show how good you are at working with others and problem-solving.

Avoid coming across defensive and putting blame on the other person, as this won't reflect well on you. Instead, point out facts that led to your disagreement and highlight ways that you are able to communicate and turn the situation around.

How would you move forward if you disagreed with your boss' point of view?

It is never a good idea to bad mouth a former boss, whether your current manager or a previous leader. However, it is quite understanding to disagree with a person you respect so tread carefully and acknowledge how difficult you found the situation you were put in and express the way that you positively confronted him or her and had your views recognised.

Don't go saying how you disagreed with a boss one time but didn't say anything and then you were secretly pleased when their move proved to be the wrong one - as it will look like you were sneakily hoping they would fail, which isn't a good culture for the workplace.

Give me examples of how you have dealt with an unhappy customer or client.

This type of question is very telling, especially when you’re interviewing for a client or customer-facing position. 

Remember that when you become an employee, you represent that company to all outsiders and therefore how you respond to a situation can have a huge impact on their reputation in general. You must prove here that you take on board and fully understand the value of customer service, even when faced with particularly difficult customers. This is your chance to prove that you would do all in your power to keep difficult people like clients and customers happy, even when you don't fully agree with them or like them!

When answering such behavioural questions, remember these keywords!

  • resolution
  • negotiation
  • facilitation
  • peacemaking
  • brainstorm
  • compromising
  • mediate
  • nonviolent
  • impartial
  • smoothing
  • cool off
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