Conflict is an inevitable part of human interaction, and in today’s fast-paced, fast-changing work environment, it’s normally just a matter of time before it erupts. A 2022 study by The Myers-Briggs Company found managers spend, on average, over four hours a week just dealing with conflict. This has turned the spotlight on conflict management and whether leaders have the skills to do it.
Simply put, conflict management is the process of reducing the negative outcomes of conflict while increasing the positive. But there’s more to it. In this blog post, we explore the various aspects of conflict, its benefits, essential conflict management skills, effective strategies for resolution, and the importance of building a culture confident in conflict management within organisations.
Understanding conflict in the workplace
Conflict in the workplace can take many forms, including personality clashes, communication breakdowns, power struggles, and competing goals or resources. It can occur within an individual, between two individuals, within a team of individuals, or within an organisation, including among leaders.
The Meyers-Briggs study found:
- Among in-office employees, poor communication is the number one cause of conflict, whereas among hybrid workers it’s a lack of transparency. Other top causes are personality clashes and value differences.
- Nearly one in four people think their managers handle conflict poorly or very poorly.
- The more time employees had to deal with conflict at work, the lower their job satisfaction and the less included they felt.
- Over 36% of people reported dealing with conflict often, very often, or all the time.
The benefits of conflict management
The Meyers-Briggs study showed that, when managed effectively, conflict has a bounty of positive potential that can stimulate progress in ways harmony often cannot. It found that when channelled through the right tools and expertise, conflict can lead to positive outcomes (this is referred to as ‘constructive conflict’), such as improved solutions to challenges and problems, a better understanding of others, robust communication, high engagement, and innovative contributions to business growth.
Other studies have found that a lack of conflict may, in fact, signal the absence of effective interaction and that managed conflict is necessary to build meaningful relationships between people and groups. Eliminating conflict entirely would mean there is no diversity of opinion and no way to catch and correct flawed plans and policies.
Essential conflict management skills
There are a number of soft skills that come into play when resolving conflict. While being patient, stress-tolerant, empathetic, and embracing diversity and inclusion go a long way in managing conflict, these are the most important skills (and can be learnt):
- Clear, accurate written and verbal communication skills — especially when managing remote workers — that limit misunderstandings and assumptions.
- Emotional intelligence that enables us to understand our own feelings and those of others, handle ‘difficult’ people and identify nonverbal cues.
- Problem-solving and analytical thinking skills that enable us to analyse the causes of conflict and come up with workable solutions.
- Negotiation skills lead to win-win outcomes through mutual agreement.
Strategies for conflict resolution
Conflict is inherently uncomfortable for most of us in both professional and personal contexts. However, learning to effectively handle conflict in a productive, healthy way is an essential professional skill. Here are some practical ways to implement a conflict management and resolution strategy:
- Invest in conflict resolution training to teach everyone the skills to manage conflict.
- Open communication channels and set clear guidelines for dealing with conflict and conflict triggers.
- Gather facts to clarify the issue and understand the conflict from both sides.
- Create neutral spaces where employees can mutually air their differences, complaints and negative feelings.
- Prevent conflict escalation by recognising early signs of conflict and intervening proactively.
- Follow the Interest-Based Relational (IBR) Approach: conflict resolution that separates people from problems, focuses on good relationships, sets out the facts and explores options together.
- Monitor the conflict resolution process to ensure the steps identified to reach a solution are followed and the conflict has been dealt with.
Building a culture of conflict management
Even though a company’s culture is initially largely invisible to individuals, it eventually affects all employees’ thinking, attitudes and behavioural patterns. A company with an inclusive culture of respect and equal opportunities, combined with clear rules and avenues for conflict management, is one where people feel safe and productive. On the other hand, one where bullying and harassment are overlooked, and conflicts are allowed to fester and explode, is doomed to pick up a bad reputation and experience high staff turnover.
As the Myers-Brigg study shows, formal training is the most common denominator to successful conflict resolution. With the introduction of the MasterStart Conflict Management online short course, we teach leaders and managers how to prevent conflict from taking an emotional, financial, and cultural toll on the business and those who work there.
You’ll learn how to identify the root of conflict before it escalates, apply conflict management processes, tools and techniques in your organisation, discover appropriate methods to resolve interpersonal, organisational and leadership conflicts, and practise approaching conflict resolution conversations in various workplace scenarios. View our 6-week online Conflict Management course.