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Conflict Resolution 101: The 5 Pillars Of Effective Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Job Interviews for managerial positions often involve questions about leadership, particularly conflict resolution. Leadership and conflict goes hand in hand.

Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, just someone having a bad day can cause people to perceive a threat. Admittedly, spending hours glued to an office chair is not conducive to mental and emotional balance.

Having worked in managerial positions in a variety of industries, here are the top 5 pointers of successful conflict resolution that helped me maintain happy and productive teams.

1. Conflict resolution starts with company culture: Its important to internalize that conflict resolution does not start when conflict arises. It starts with the company culture. A company culture of communication, respect and acceptance of different view points is conducive. A company culture which encouraged managers to fight for territory and resources rather than building teams and developing people isn’t. Your job as a manager is to help shape company culture and to define acceptable behaviour.

Another important opportunity of conflict avoidance is in the induction phase. Making sure new employees are properly introduced to the team is key. Monitoring the acceptance of the new team member and how staff members work together is equally important. I encourage managers to cultivate a sense of genuine curiosity about their employees.

2. The importance of communication: Regular team meetings are important not only to marathon through a meeting agenda but also in order to maintain supportive relationships within the team. They are also vital for learning about our colleagues’ motivations, fears, hopes, troubles, etc. They create a place for feedback and enforce the feeling of being a team.

Many conflicts arise due to lack of sufficient information or misinformation. Team meetings help to identify information gaps.

3. Timing: If conflict arises make sure it gets addressed before conflict spreading and stone walling occurs. Stonewalling is a refusal to communicate or cooperate. As a manager its your task to keep spaces between people clean. Conflicts between individuals need to be addressed as they arise.

4. Recognize underlying needs: Conflicts arise due to underlying needs. Meet with the team members separately at first. Find out why your team member wants the solutions they initially proposed. Once you understand the advantages their solutions have for them, you have discovered their needs. A conflict due to different opinions about a project might originate from a need for a clear job description or a lack of empowerment. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their needs and objectives you will find the process of conflict resolution easier.

5. The art of mediation: When bringing the parties together let both parties explain their position. By giving each party time to speak, without being interrupted and then encourage the other party to repeat what was said you can make sure there are no misunderstandings.

The next step should be to find areas of agreement, e.g. Agree on the problem, agree on the procedure to follow, agree on the worst fears. Agreeing gives an experience of success and stimulates the team spirit.

The next step is to sum up available options and determine which actions will be taken and get buy in from everybody involved. Follow up meetings should be scheduled to monitor progress.

If conflict remains unresolved and is causing a disruption to the business, you may need to explore other routes. In some cases the conflict becomes a performance issue, and may require coaching from an outside facilitators, performance appraisals, or even disciplinary action. If you work with a culturally diverse work force or in a high conflict environment it can be useful to dive deeper into the subject, e.g. The Mediation Process by Christopher Moore.