Practical Tips for Managing Conflict

I’ve been unpacking my communication toolbox lately, and I realized that I’ve developed quite a few tips for managing conflict in the workplace. Over the years, I’ve drawn from business strategies, philosophies of indigenous peoples, basic psychology, and my own experiences to develop strategies that can help prevent the escalation of conflict. These tips below served me, and those I coach, very well and I wanted to share them with you – my tribe.

These tips are written with an eye toward the workplace in mind, but truly, they can be beneficial in any area of your life. I hope you find them useful.

4 Ways to React to Conflict

When conflict occurs, you can choose to react in one of four different ways:

  1. You can play the victim and act betrayed. You can complain to all those who will listen and create alliances against the offending party. This rarely works in the business world, as it tends to breed further resentment rather than resolve anything, yet many workers actively engage in such passive-aggressive behaviors instead of directly addressing conflict.
  1. You can withdraw, either by physically removing yourself from the situation or emotionally and mentally disengaging. This may involve walking out of a heated meeting, moving to a new unit or team, or just quitting your job. A Gallup Organization survey reports that, at any one time, as many as 19 percent of an organization’s employees are actively disengaged. Worse yet, more than half (55 percent) are not engaged at all, and are simply putting in their hours.
  1. You can invite change, which is an option most people never consider because it involves backing down from their original stance. We can be a stubborn bunch! Those of us who are engaged in personal battles or who remain steadfastly attached to their core beliefs may think change is tantamount to failure. Or worse, surrender. Healthier individuals who are communicating from a positive place can look for win-win possibilities that open the door to creative solutions. Letting go of your ego and admitting that maybe the other side has a point can be incredibly difficult, but it also can pay dividends in the long-run.
  1. You can confront people honestly, openly, and candidly. In other words, show up authentically. This is the preferred option to conflict management, but is also the most difficult to put into practice. We tend to fear conflict, and therefore lack the skills to work through it.

6 Keys to Managing Conflict

When conflict occurs, leaders and managers must address it as soon as possible. If left alone or actively ignored, it can quickly escalate into a chronic or pervasive problem. The following conflict management steps are critical:

  1. Create rules of engagement. Establish procedures and rules for addressing conflict in the workplace fairly and without bias.
  1. Demonstrate the importance of caring. Nothing can be resolved in an atmosphere of distrust. Demonstrate that you are not taking a “side” in the conflict.
  1. Depersonalize the issues. Focus on behaviors and problems, not on personalities. Find the root cause of the conflict, not the ways the root cause manifests itself.
  1. Don’t triangulate or bring in political allies. This can create “sides”, and might escalate the situation.
  1. Know when to let it go. Pushing can only make people more stubborn.
  1. Know when to bring in a professional mediator, coach, or trainer.

9 Tips to Navigate Difficult Conversations

  1. Always start with the other person’s agenda.
  1. Listen without saying a word 70 percent of the time. Confirm both verbally and nonverbally, that you understand what the other person is saying 20 percent of the time. In the remaining time, ask questions that advance the conversation’s meaning. Sometimes, the other person might resolve the conflict all by themselves!
  1. Become a people reader. Pay attention to others’ facial expressions.
  1. Focus not only on what people are saying, but also on what they are not Their tone and vibe can speak volumes.
  1. Frequently check in and confirm what people are thinking, feeling, and believing. Don’t assume you know what they mean. Rephrase what they just said as a question. This will not only give you clarity, it will also demonstrate to them that you are actually listening.
  1. When people are trying to make their points, practice the art of saying “tell me more.”
  1. Don’t go into difficult conversations unprepared. First, think about where you want the conversation to end up. Second, think about what’s really going on underneath the words. Finally, begin the process of discovering and designing an action plan.
  1. From a communication standpoint, you get what you want by first giving others what they need.
  1. At the end of every important conversation, review the commitments that have been made.

Let me know what you think. I’d also love to hear your favorite tips for handling conflict. You can contact me here and on LinkedIn.