In most office environments, diverse opinions should be welcomed. By encouraging a range of different outlooks and perspectives, you can develop an office culture capable of progressive thinking and problem solving. However, when differing opinions clash, workplace disputes can occur – which bring their own unique challenges to the management team.
Instead of letting disagreements go unresolved, managers should be able to deal with these situations head on. Unfortunately, some managers might not be experienced in conflict resolution - whether it's due to the lack of training or simply because they'd prefer to avoid difficult conversations.
However, knowing when to keep a cool head can be a hugely valuable part of managing your team when things begin to boil over. Here, we'll take a look at some of the way’s leaders can prevent, mediate, and manage differences of opinion among employees and stakeholders.
Conflict management techniques
1. Clarify the conflict
One of the first and most important parts of conflict resolution is making sure you fully understand the source of conflict. The more information you have to hand at this early stage, the more prepared you'll be to create a resolution.
If it's a disagreement between two people, then make sure you're clear on each side of the story. Doing so lets you form more of an idea of how this turn of events happened. Be sure to ask questions; you want to be as confident as possible that you fully understand the issue before you make any attempts at resolving it
People involved in workplace disputes will often be feeling annoyed, anxious, or vulnerable. When emotions are running high, the right environment matters. Talking things through in a part of the office where it's quiet and secluded is one way of helping your conversations to be more constructive.
Before resolving any issue, find a safe, private place to talk that's away from the other party involved in the dispute. And once you've found an appropriate location, make sure to give both people the same amount of time so they can air their grievances properly.
Part of clarifying the conflict involves listening to each person's response with the proper amount of attention. In other words, rather than passively hearing someone out, you're using active listening to fully understand and empathise with what they have to say.
Active listening stops us from hearing our inner monologue, and instead shifts the focus to the speaker, keeping misunderstandings to a minimum in the process. When listening to your team, you can get them to open up more through non-verbal signals such as maintaining a degree of eye contact and mirroring their body language, as well as verbal signals such as remembering previous points, paraphrasing what they've said and summarising details in your own words.
Not only will these methods let the speaker know they're being heard out, they'll help you further understand the incident in more detail before you attempt to defuse things.
Since every workplace conflict is different, deciding on a resolution can be challenging. With that said, the same basic discussion process can be applied across a range of different disagreements.
Firstly, try gathering everyone involved, so you can discuss things in a more level-headed manner in an environment that everyone is comfortable with. Ask each person what they would find to be a personally acceptable resolution to the problem.
If both sides' responses are somewhat similar, then things should be relatively smooth. However, this isn't always the case - both parties will usually want different resolutions to the matter at hand. In this case, listen to their ideas on how to rectify things (without casting any judgments or making any validations) and let them know they're being heard. Once you've heard their ideas, you're in a better place to make a decision.
After collecting all the necessary information, you should be able to identify the root cause of the dispute. Once this has been identified you can begin to come up with a solution that satisfies everyone involved.
One way of doing this is to picture the conflict as a Venn diagram. Here, you should be aiming to bring the three circles (a circle to represent your perception, and a circle each for each party’s viewpoint) together, finding ways in which the three differing perceptions overlap in the centre. Your solution should, ideally, fall within that overlap.
And if friction remains, then you should still make sure everyone agrees on at least one solution. It might not be perfect, but as long as it meets a degree of each participant's desired outcomes (and is clear and objective), it's still possible to resolve the conflict.
Likewise, even if each party isn't completely happy with the outcome, then at least there's some form of an agreed-upon solution that you can use to get the workplace back to its regular-scheduled duties.
Remember to create actionable steps for both parties to follow once you've agreed on a solution. These steps should give them tips and approaches on how to modify their behaviour and actions. As a result, each person must fully understand your expectations of them going forward and how they're expected to interact with each other from now on.
Make a habit of checking in with both parties over the next few weeks. Doing so means you'll be able to see if they're following the solution and the steps you provided them, and that each employee is happy with the results.
Like what you're reading? Sign up below to receive our best content each month...
If not, you may have to tinker with things at the ‘explore solutions’ phase to come up with a more effective resolution for each person.
7. Put preventative measures in place
Ensuring the issue doesn't end up resurfacing is crucial. Not only should you keep an eye on the issue to assess if your proposed solution has been effective, you should also decide on preventative measures to ensure the same conflict doesn’t arise again.
You might consider making changes to your teams’ roles if it stops them from stepping on each other's toes - just make sure it suits their needs. You can also provide staff with the right training and resources (such as awareness courses on equality and diversity) so they can improve the ways they respond to differences.
And if necessary, you may want to create a conflict resolution policy that mentions a zero-tolerance approach to abusive behaviour. This encourages employees to report concerns and complaints, and lets you take on confrontations before they have time to worsen.
Gazprom Energy is a leading supplier of energy for small businesses, offering competitive gas and electricity contracts that are simple to set up and manage. For more information, visit the homepage or call our team today on 0161 837 3395.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.
How to manage different employee learning styles
Licences and permits for small businesses explained
Energy as a strategic priority: How businesses are changing their approach