Effective conflict management is conducive to a healthy, well-functioning, prosperous work environment. After all, no business can thrive if their people are going at each other’s throats. When it comes to employee development, it’s always a good idea to include conflict management in your list of prioritized skills.
What Is Conflict Management?
When there is a problem between employees that can’t be resolved in a way that is satisfactory to both sides, then someone in a leadership position must act as a mediator. The goal of conflict management is not necessarily to end issues (see below), but to keep employees cooperating effectively even when they have differences.
Conflict Resolution vs. Conflict Management
Conflict resolution is defined as “an intervention between two opposing groups that causes each side to suspend or conclude their argument.” The key word in this case is, of course, “resolve” so that the issue goes away. Conflict resolution is often a long-term process where each side is given the opportunity to explain their side of the story, with a leadership figure passing judgment.
In comparison, conflict management seeks to make the best of a (sometimes) bad situation.
Conflict Management Examples
There are many types of situations where managing conflict in the workplace is necessary, for example:
- Arguments based on personality and values
- Disagreements where an external party, such as customers or suppliers, has a lot of influence
- Differences of opinion regarding future strategies and related ideas
The essential factor here is that there is no way to determine who is right. For instance, two people with different personalities can naturally come into conflict. But if each is productive and respectful, there is no clear way to choose one over the other.
Conflict Management Styles
Leaders who must deal with conflict resolution use five different approaches – competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. But these aren’t completely relevant for conflict management, because some of them, such as avoidance, don’t involve any type of “management.”
Instead, there are four styles when it comes to conflict management, in terms of what the leader does to ensure continued productivity:
- Separation – The different sides don’t work together, but instead try to focus on their responsibilities with minimum contact.
- Cooperation – Both sides try to combine their different ideas and styles.
- Close – The manager works directly and frequently with both sides to promote success.
- Distant – The manager is only involved periodically.
The mixture of approaches greatly depends on the nature of the disagreement. If both sides really can’t stand each other, then there is no way to build any level of constructive relationship.
Style is also a matter of personal preference and situation. Some managers simply don’t have the time to expend on making sure that everyone behaves. In these cases, the best move is often to delegate implementation and supervision of the manager’s solution to a trusted employee. Of course, that employee must also possess the right skills.
Conflict Management Skills
As in the case of conflict resolution, a good manager will have at least some level of the following skills:
In view of the techniques listed below, which require acting as a “peacekeeper” and go-between to some extent, additional skills are needed. For example:
Many of these skills will enhance productivity even in workplaces where conflict is not an issue, so L&D in these areas is always useful.
Conflict Management Techniques
The basic goal of managers in such situations is to reduce the damage that in-fighting is causing, and to maintain operations. But don’t forget that feelings are involved. So it’s a good idea to listen, agree on a plan, and hopefully get back to work. Here are a few of the techniques that are commonly employed:
- Active listening – Listening actually makes up 42% of the time we spend communicating, and is critical for allowing both sides to feel that their story matters. While discussing the details in a calm physical and behavioral atmosphere, managers should decide if this is a situation that can be resolved. If not, it’s time to make a deal.
- Forming agreements – Depending on the manager’s style, a solution needs to be found that allows both sides to return to some type of normal. It’s important to record the details and make sure that everyone commits to the arrangement. Part of the agreement will probably include delegating certain tasks to chosen members of each party.
- Feedback and monitoring – The manager should determine a time to meet with each side regularly. In addition, the success level of the agreement should be discussed in one-on-one meetings. It’s also a good idea to periodically check the workplace atmosphere in case employees aren’t giving you the full picture.
Use GrowthSpace to Develop Conflict Management Skills
Conflict management is sometimes needed to bring out the best in teams, and it’s up to HR to build the necessary skills. There’s a good chance that each employee has strengths in some of the talents needed. But to reinforce all-around abilities, you’ll need a way to get every employee up to speed in exactly their areas of weakness.
GrowthSpace enables HR to define skill-related goals, source experts in conflict management, and deliver just the right employee learning experience. With GrowthSpace, organizations of any size can ensure that every employee is equipped with the tools they need to manage challenges of any sort in the workplace.