The Leader’s Guide to Managing Conflict

In a world that is constantly shifting, changes in the workplace are inevitable. As employees deal with change, differences in principles, opinions, and goals surface. The manner in which leaders handle these differences directly impacts the level of lost productivity, time, and money for an organization. In order to prevent undesirable results in each of these areas, leaders must be skilled in and committed to handling employee disagreements. When managers identify and proactively deal with differences, they may lesson or avoid an escalation of conflict that leads to employee unhappiness, lack of productivity, and possibly even legal action.

Here are some tips for leaders to effectively manage conflict:

  • Listen for and address employees discounting the work or ideas of another, as these underhanded comments quickly lead to the erosion of trust.
  • Don’t sweep conflict under the rug; instead, encourage employees to articulate their differences.
  • Deal with disagreements early. In the early stages of conflict, employees are more open to hearing other opinions and finding mutually agreeable solutions. Over time, individuals become more entrenched in their positions and are more likely to seek out allies, thereby creating larger issues.
  • To the extent possible, keep the conversation among the parties directly involved in the matter. Other people entering into the discussion generally leads to further escalation.
  • Keep the focus on the needs of each employee involved.
  • Reiterate that there is no “winner” or “loser;” instead, the goal is a “win-win” solution.
  • Let employees know that it is ultimately their responsibility to resolve their conflicts. The manager’s role is to provide guidance and resources to facilitate resolution.
  • Be willing to seek out third-party mediation or other assistance. It may seem like an undesirable cost at first, but it is better to invest your organization’s time and money in this way than to let issues simmer and intensify so that they cost even more in terms of time, money, and productivity.