Conflict in the workplace takes many forms. And managing it effectively can make or break a team. It can encourage a team to push together as one. Or form a group of isolated individuals not looking forward to work. So here are some pointers to get comfortable with managing conflict at work.

What is Managing Conflict and why is it important?

Managing conflict isn’t just about the handling of conflict, but also anticipating conflict. It’s definitely not about suppressing conflict. Managing conflict effectively means defusing tense situations. It means having difficult but necessary conversations. Seeing things from multiple, often competing perspectives, plays an important role. It’s an art form. And with change all around us, it’s essential at work.

Conflict situations are great learning opportunities. When faced with conflict, our physiological responses cause us to do all sorts of strange things. Some good. Some not so good. When confronted, you can’t fight back with anger (this isn’t the playground anymore) You have to push back, maintain your credibility or risk being deemed a soft touch. So whether you’re just starting out or vastly experienced, here are things we can all do…

Getting familiar with conflict

If you’re new in a role, naturally you’re busy with a whole host of challenges. And the last thing you need is conflict! But it’s important to have a basic grasp of things you could be faced with. Here are some quick wins for getting familiar with conflict situations.

Getting comfortable when conflict comes your way

Know your physical response to conflict. Get red faced? A rush of adrenaline? Whatever it is, be conscious of it. Body language speaks volumes. Focus on remaining calm, in control and practice neutral body language.

Be up front with people. While treading carefully, be honest about your frustrations and problems. Tackle conflict, or potential conflict, early. Don’t let it build up.

Test yourself. Put yourself in position to practice managing conflict. Practise makes progress. So head to that group meeting that’ll involve a heated debate.

Reflect and perfect. Think carefully about how you feel and how it affects your actions, for better or worse. Shadow people who handle tough situations and ask for advice. Reflect and then perfect your approach.

Building experience in tackling conflict

Managing conflict and debate in meetings

When you’ve found your feet, managing conflict is even more important. With your reputation growing, you’ll need to be proactive and professional. You’ll need to tackle conflicts head on with increasing stakes.

Overcoming conflict starts with confronting it, but in the right way. You’ve more factors to consider before you tackle conflict. And how much thinking you do is key to working out how people might respond and how situations might play out.

How to hone your conflict management

Scenario plan. Consider how people might respond to you. Think about different courses of action. Try approaches and reflect on what happens.

Be conscious that people take things personally. We’re human and emotional. Let people let off steam or vent before focusing on solutions. This is helpful in de-clouding everyone’s mind.

Don’t let biases or past experiences govern your response. Use evidence and refer to facts. Distinguish what’s known from what’s subjective or hearsay. Focus on behaviours and events, not personalities. And offer solutions and support.

Use your emotions. Be positive and show willingness to move past conflicts. It’s not always appropriate to be happy and smiley when navigating difficulty, but it can help. Know when to inject humour, and when to be more serious.

Becoming a conflict managing wizard

Managing conflict in a team working meeting

Before long, managing conflict will be a regular activity. Whether calming a direct report who’s gutted you’ve not promoted them, or initiating a disruptive but necessary restructure of your department, it’s never too far away as a manager or leader.

So, how do you do it?

Be the mediator. Chair the challenging meetings. Schedule time to discuss contentious issues. Look at things from a neutral and objective perspective. Practise finding compromises.

Confront the persistent troublemakers. Talk to the colleague who doesn’t pull their weight. Be assertive with the client who wants everything yesterday. Be open with the manager that avoids conflict at all costs!

See conflict and change as opportunities, and create teams that do too. Conflict isn’t all bad. Encouraging healthy debate roots out sources of friction. Push for openness. It’s easy to overlook details in the team, so monitor the team’s temperature regularly.

Be decisive and act fast. With caveats. Guaranteed you won’t always have the data at hand to make perfect decisions. But you’ll need to decide anyway. So do it, and make contingencies to guard against future issues.

From conflict to growth

Managing conflict is necessary, no matter what stage you’re at. It’s not always easy. It isn’t considered a perk of the job. But instances of conflict are opportunities to build and test your skills. Getting comfortable with and managing conflict have much wider benefits. Especially in building your skills in assertiveness, resilience and communication.

So getting involved in conflict, could be one of the most productive self-development activities to do. Use the tips from this article to turn any conflict into an opportunity for growth. Good luck!

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity
– Albert Einstein.

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