Mastering conflict resolution: Techniques for maintaining workplace harmony

Mastering conflict resolution: Techniques for maintaining workplace harmony

When I began managing teams, I associated conflict management with colossal tensions, firing staff and other dramatic narratives. The term sounded intimidating. Now, I realise that those scenarios are instances of a lack of conflict management.

Workflows and project delivery involve a mesh of relationships, competing priorities and, at times, tight deadlines. Conflicts are inevitable. So, today I'll offer some techniques to identify potential conflicts early and resolve them gracefully to nurture a productive and collaborative culture within your team.

Understanding conflict dynamics

The 2023 APS Employee Census found that 10.4% of respondents had experienced bullying or harassment in the office. Unlike the playground, outright bullying is not the only friction you may confront at work. Much like any interpersonal clash, workplace conflict can grow from various seeds, such as:

  • Unmet expectations
  • Lack of information
  • Discrimination or harassment
  • Clashing work styles
  • Insufficient resources
  • Mental illness

As you may have guessed, these situations can arise from management or employees. So what can you do about it?

Mediation strategies

The ideal outcome in a working dispute is where all parties arrive at a mutual resolution that benefits everyone. Here are some strategies to mediate conflict and improve workplace harmony.

  • Acknowledge the problem: Tackle discrepancies early to prevent them from growing. Showing a desire to resolve conflict and reach collaborative solutions encourages transparency, open communication and trust within a team.
  • Communicate respectfully: A willingness to listen is indispensable in diffusing tension. Hear the other party's point of view, even if you disagree. If someone speaks negatively to or about you, remember you may not fully understand their struggles yet. This doesn't make it OK – but it still warrants respectful communication. Always maintain a professional tone of voice.
  • Make a resolution plan: Discuss a mutual path towards resolution. Break it down into steps. As you move through the resolution process, ensure that both parties respect the plan and stay accountable for doing their part.

Check whether you can access mediation support through your organisation. A third set of ears or a new perspective can help both parties understand one another's needs and expectations more clearly.

Maintaining relationships post-conflict

Part of your job as a manager is to create systems so conflicts, once resolved, don't resurface. It's unnecessary to micromanage your team post-conflict. Instead, show up as reliable and accountable by continuing to delegate, support and celebrate your team. Consistency will help rebuild trust and cooperation among team members long after conflict resolution.

On a practical note, you may rehash reference docs, implement new communications initiatives or encourage open and regular conversations.

Proactive conflict prevention

Many managers I've spoken with during my career have found their conflict prevention skills sharpened with experience. They don't shy away from ruffled feathers. No, they anticipate potential conflicts and address them proactively before they escalate.

For example, clear communication can help flag differences in understanding or expectations early. These conversations can be tough but can also disarm potential issues down the line. Brushing up your emotional intelligence skills can help you stay present as an empathetic, supportive leader. When both parties feel respected in conflict, it rarely ramps up.

I'll finish on a personal favourite: Engage in relationship-building exercises within your team. Regularly celebrating individual wins rewards good work, culminates trust and shows team members they are valued.

Achieve resolutions faster with ICML

Conflicts are generally inevitable in the workplace. With the right approach, you can spot potential risks early and work towards a smooth and peaceful resolution. For deeper learning and development in conflict management, check out our course for Managing Conflict effectively.

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