How to Manage Conflict

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How to manage conflict is a core management skill that is seldom developed for many leaders.  Below we discuss some easy steps for managers to be able to effectively manage conflict.

A survey conducted by Accountemps in 2011 concluded that leaders on average spend 16% of their time trying to manage conflict.  Given this amount of effort, organizations already spend a great deal of time and money to manage conflict.  Presumably those organizations and the leaders there would want to ensure that they manage conflict well.

The Avoidance Myth

Many leaders erroneously believe that avoidance is the best way to manage conflict.  This is not true.  In fact, avoiding and yielding responses to manage conflict can be extraordinarily harmful.  Conflict is inevitable in any workplace, and is neither good nor bad, but rather how people manage conflict can make the situation better or worse.

4 Keys to Properly Manage Conflict

Below are four key elements to effectively manage conflict.

  1. Know when to act.
  2. Focus on specific behaviours, not individual person(s)
  3. Be self-aware
  4. Move forward

Know When to Act to Properly Manage Conflict

Sometimes leaders need to take decisive action when attempting to manage conflict.  Other times they should ignore a situation:

  • Respond to serious conflict, and avoid petty grievances.  People should be told to sort out their own problems when they are of a minor nature.
  • If there will be a significant affect on morale or productivity – deal with it.
  • Certainly act if there is any potential for harassment or violence.

Focus on Specific Behaviours, not Individual Person(s) to Properly Manage Conflict

As a leader, you must rise above personality clashes when attempting to manage conflict:

  • You need to deal with problem people, but in the context of their behaviour or the situation.
  • Take note of observable or measurable behaviours.
  • Be aware of both active and passive responses to conflict.  In other words, in some cases, you may be better off to take note of a situation, and deal with the conflict when you have more and better information.

Be Self-aware

You are a leader who has a responsibility to manage conflict, but you are also a person who is subject to thoughts and emotion.  Make sure you are self-aware:

  • What is the impact of this conflict on you?
  • What people or situations are likely to “push your buttons”? (The Conflict Dynamics Profile will help you figure this out)
  • Attempt to understand how and why the conflict is occurring.
  • Know there is a “moment of choice” that will either resolve or escalate the conflict

Move Forward

In order properly manage conflict, there must be some resolution.  In other words, something must occur differently going forward than has happened in the past:

  • Ensure everyone understands what will be different going forward.
  • Who will do what by when to achieve resolution?

3 Things to Remember to Properly Manage Conflict

  1. Deal with conflict – do not avoid it.  It won’t resolve itself, and the longer you leave things, the worse it will get.
  2. Don’t minimize the impact on you.  Be aware of what emotions are at play when dealing with conflict, and how they may impact your judgment and action.
  3. Don’t make it personal.  Always deal with the situation, rather than attacking the person, and conversely remember that someone who is attacking you, is likely not attacking the person.

Watch the ’3-Minute Crash Course’ about How to Manage Conflict (CLICK THE ARROW TO START THE VIDEO):

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