Conflict is bound to arise anytime opinions differ — which means conflict is a fact of life in the workplace. Indeed, 85 percent of employees report experiencing conflict at work, and 29 percent say the conflict is nearly constant.
But conflict isn’t always a bad thing. Handled maturely, it can lead to creative solutions, facilitate new ideas, and challenge the status quo. It is when conflict goes unchecked that it becomes counterproductive and harmful to team dynamics.
The challenge for managers is to find a constructive way to manage and resolve conflict so that you can both embrace its benefits and mitigate its damaging potential.
Making Conflict Work for You
Conflict doesn’t necessarily mean incompatibility. It occurs when goals, processes, workflows, or emotions lead to disagreement. Regardless of whether it’s a clash of values, needs, or ideas, conflict occurs when one individual or group feels blocked by another.
As a manager, your job is to recognize when conflict is good and when it’s bad. Effective managers don’t fear conflict. Rather, they encourage creative tension when necessary to bring about positive changes in teams, projects, and the organization as a whole.
Even so, managers need to be careful about how they manage conflict, or else they run the risk of escalating the situation rather than guiding it toward a productive outcome.
Here are five steps to help you manage conflict toward positive ends:
1. Take Charge
Conflicts often arise when people are unclear about who’s in charge. In the absence of a clear authority, employees may battle for the reins. If, however, someone who has clear authority — such as you, the manager — were to step in and make a decision, these conflicts would simmer down as fast as they flared up.
Taking a proactive approach when conflicts arise allows you to defuse tensions before they turn into serious problems and quickly get everyone moving together in the same direction toward a shared goal. Plus, your employees will appreciate your swift action: 54 percent of workers say say their managers could better handle conflict if they were to address it immediately.
2. Encourage Communication
Forty-nine percent of employees believe conflict most often arises due to clashing personalities. In such situations, problems can often be averted by paying attention to differences in employees’ communication styles and mitigating the misunderstandings that could result.
Communication breakdowns can happen for a number of reasons, even beyond personality differences. Perhaps the office has a culture of self-reliance that discourages people from talking about difficulties they encounter while working on a project? Or maybe an employee feels isolated and doesn’t know where to turn for guidance.
Ultimately, your responsibility as a manager is to encourage people to communicate with each other as often as necessary. When communication flows freely, minor hiccups are much less likely to become major headaches.
3. Foster Growth
No one enjoys conflict, but disagreements can be valuable learning and development opportunities.
Diverse teams are more likely to give rise to conflicts, simply because team members have varying perspectives on the same issues. However, diverse teams are also more productive and more innovative. That’s because the conflicts can generate new ideas and expose team members to new styles of thinking.
As a manager, you can help your employees approach moments of conflict as opportunities for growth. They may not be pleasant, but you can often walk away from them a better person.
4. Make It Actionable
It’s a simple truth, but it bears mentioning: In order to overcome a conflict, a resolution must be reached. In the process of reaching the resolution, however, a team’s inefficiencies or an employee’s problematic behaviors may be brought to light.
You can’t just wave those away. As a manager, you need to create an action plan to address these matters so they do not lead to more conflicts in the future. When you turn conflicts into action plans, you avoid further problems while also giving your team a solid growth opportunity.
5. Implement Conflict Resolution Training
Conflict resolution is a valued skill for any employee to have, not just managers. Through effective training, employees can learn to reassess their positions when they’re in a conflict, understand others’ points of view, and proactively search for solutions.
When employees receive formal conflict resolution training, they are more capable of resolving issues on their own. Future conflicts will be handled more quickly and lead to more productive outcomes.
Whenever people work together, there will be conflict — but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to reduce negative conflicts and foster positive outcomes. Your team will benefit from a stronger culture, more dynamic relationships, and higher productivity as a result.
A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.
Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.
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