Many people who are new to management roles find themselves managing conflict in the workplace only to realize that they don’t have training or experience with conflict resolution. Without a combination of experience, thoughtfulness, and care, this can lead to negative or unsatisfying outcomes—and it may even cause further tension in the workplace or lead to valued employees leaving. However, conflict doesn’t always have to end poorly, and learning how to handle conflict as a manager can lead to higher trust and better outcomes.
Why Is Managing Conflict in the Workplace So Hard?
Because conflict is inevitable and can’t be avoided, learning to manage it is a crucial skill. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, most new managers struggle when first developing this skill. Not everyone is taught successful conflict resolution strategies as a matter of course, so many new managers enter the job with little experience mediating and no formal training in the matter.
Conflict resolution is also difficult because each employee’s needs, ideas, worldview, and experiences are vastly different, meaning conflict can occur due to numerous, difficult-to-identify reasons. This makes communication key in the process. It’s a manager’s job to communicate with involved parties and understand where the current conflict stems from and what each party hopes to get out of it during the resolution process.
Where and How Does Conflict Arise?
Differing Goals or Visions
When working together as a team, each person will inevitably have different visions for the project and different goals they’re working to achieve. This can lead to disagreement over what direction to take the project or what steps are necessary to complete it. This often stems from team members wanting the best for the project and simply not agreeing on what that looks like. When properly managed, this type of conflict can lead to a better final project and higher levels of trust between team members.
Another common source of conflict in the workplace is when two or more people simply don’t get along or communicate well. Not everyone needs to be friends, but interpersonal issues can lead to problems with productivity and morale. Sometimes these issues result from communication barriers, such as those between different generations who may have distinct social expectations for workplace interactions. Other times, these issues may be caused by differing political views, opinions, or personal values.
While the previous types of conflict largely center on communication, some conflicts are more direct and insidious. In your tenure as a manager, you’re likely to eventually come across intentional conflict, such as workplace retaliation, extremely biased or bigoted behavior, and bullying. These issues should often be addressed with the help of your human resources department.
How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace as a Manager
One of the most important aspects of managing conflict in the workplace is clear, open, and honest communication. New managers should practice active listening skills to stay present and thoughtful during the resolution process. They should also consider holding office hours and having an open-door policy, which shows direct reports that their manager is actively encouraging communication when issues arise.
2. Establish Norms
Having a normal, codified process for your conflict resolution strategy helps a new manager structure the resolution process, and it also helps employees understand what they can expect when they approach their manager about an issue in the workplace. You may want to develop these norms in conjunction with your employees, giving everyone a say in how the process unfolds.
3. Foster Respect and Trust
To turn conflict in the workplace into a vector for growth, it’s important to build an atmosphere of trust among you and those you manage. Encourage employees to stay respectful during conflict resolution and ask them to consider the issue from the other party’s perspective while working jointly toward a solution. You can also build trust and respect by having regular time for socializing. Happy hours, casual meetings and check-ins, and space for holding low-stakes personal conversations help employees and managers bond and develop rapport.