How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

8 Steps to Resolve Workplace Conflict

Conflict is inevitable. Even simple workplace interactions can lead to conflict, owing to the disparity in beliefs, attitudes and outlooks between people. Conflict is a natural human phenomenon. Rather than trying to avoid it entirely, we can learn how to resolve conflict so we can deal with it and move on.

What is Conflict?

Conflict is as a sharp disagreement between two or more parties. In the workplace, conflict may arise between employees, or between an employer and an employee. Teams and departments might have minor spats or disagreements. Even upper-level management might have conflicting ideas on how to run operations.

Sources of Conflict

Almost anything can cause a conflict, from beliefs to actions. But most causes of conflict in a workplace setting can be traced back to these general themes.

  • Diverging opinions and beliefs.
  • Poor communication.
  • Personality differences.
  • Conflict over resources.
  • Power struggles.

Members of an organisation are better positioned to succeed when they are trained on how to discuss any conflict that may arise. Conflicts need to be dealt with, not ignored. Only when employees and employers take steps to handle conflicts as they arise do the benefits of conflict become clear. When handled correctly, conflicts can be creative opportunities. Furthermore, they offer a chance to work through a problem and arrive at a better solution.

Benefits of Workplace Conflict

Both the organisation and members of the staff can gain valuable experience from conflict.
Employees can:

  • Practice emotional intelligence and self-control.
  • Reflect on and re-evaluate their leadership model.
  • Learn to communicate more clearly.
  • Grow in humility and openness.
  • Understand and appreciate each other.

Employers profit by:

  • Innovation and changes resulting from open dialogue and debate.
  • Achieving a respectful, fair and friendly work environment.
  • Promotion of inclusive leadership.

Failure to Resolve Conflict

On the flip side, lack of conflict resolution is hazardous:

  • Conflict results in hatred, resentment and animosity.
  • Suppressed feelings lead to further conflict later on.
  • A continued misunderstanding leads to diminished respect.
Angry man banging his fist on wooden table
Failure to resolve conflict can lead to a build up of anger and frustration
As for the organisation:
  • The team becomes divided, ruining further teamwork.
  • Common goals give way to individual interests.
  • Loss of employee morale.

David Rowland, Head of Marketing at Engage EHS, claims that:

“The role of safety in business is vitally important. It is imperative that we are proactive in developing a positive safety culture in our businesses. What we need is a genuine cultural shift, and this can have a profound impact on not just our workers, but also other KPIs such as consumer confidence and reputation.”

Conflict resolution helps organisations to encourage better working relationships and achieve their best potential. Conflict avoidance brews an air of hostility and tension in the workplace and lowers employee performance.

8 Steps to Resolve Conflict

Fortunately, there are concrete steps that can be employed to foster conflict resolution among employees. They include:

1. Face to Face Discussion

Here, the conflicting parties are required to set time aside to actually talk through and try to resolve the conflict. All involved parties should be physically present.

2. Listen to the Other Side

Each party receives an opportunity to narrate the occurrences that led to the conflict. They recount how they felt, how they interpreted the other party’s actions, and what offended them. The actual source of the conflict is identified to each party. Moreover, you may find that each party may have been offended by different elements, giving vital information on how the conflict began.

A man and woman sitting in chairs and having a conversation
In order to resolve conflict, listening to the other side and discussing is key

3. Dwell on the Matter at Hand

Keep all discussions focused on the current conflict. References to past experiences, blame-casting, and reiterating a party’s negative views should not take centre stage. If the conversation wanders to non-related issues, it may prevent the resolution of the present issue.

4. Allow Healthy Debate

Don’t let one individual dominate the discussion. Insist that everyone is heard, and let views be challenged. Encourage an open-minded attitude which allows employees to see things from a new angle. Openness helps conflict resolution.

5. Calm Down

Let people step out of the meeting to calm down at any point. If necessary, postpone to a later time or date. Where there are disagreements in the course of a negotiation, voice them respectfully and concisely.

6. Ask for Reinforcements

When there’s a particularly divisive issue at stake, invite a neutral individual to guide and moderate the discussions. This could be the Human Resource Manager, or team leader or fellow employee. The neutral party does not take sides but mediates the discussion between conflicting parties.

Three people having a discussion in an archway
Sometimes it’s necessary to bring in a third party like a line manager or HR.

7. Collaborate or Compromise

These are two of the desired outcomes of any workplace conflict. Collaboration results in a win-win solution.  Meanwhile, compromise requires each side to make concessions to achieve a middle-ground solution. In both approaches, there is no winner and loser, but victories on both sides. This fosters peace and harmony between the parties.

8. Apologise and Forgive

Apology and forgiveness are absolutely essential, helping to mend remaining wounds. This step allows wronged parties to resolve their conflict and return to a harmonious workplace relationship.

Final Thoughts

In summary, conflict can either be a blessing in disguise or a curse. How we resolve conflict will either help us to reap the benefits of healthy conflicts or dwell in the pitfalls of unresolved conflicts. The choice is ours to make!

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