7 tips and tools for leaders to solve office conflict

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Conflict is inevitable when leading and working with diverse people daily, especially in a confined space such as an office. But when tensions are high and team members feel aggravated and agitated, avoiding or solving office conflict feels nearly impossible. Surprisingly most conflict situations can be avoided or resolved in the early stages. This depends on how well equipped leaders, managers and employees are with conflict resolution skills. Consider the following tips and tools to prevent or solve office conflict the moment it starts:

1. Early detection is key

Immediately stop the unhappiness or reason for conflict in its tracks. Don’t let it breed. Sweeping the conflict under a mat or thinking it will blow over will only make things worse. Remember, "A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party; there is no battle unless there be two." - Seneca the Elder

2. Remain calm and assess the conflict situation rationally

When you as the leader or manager start losing your cool or get irritated, your judgement gets clouded. "Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn--and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving." This quote by Dale Carnegie explains that you as the manager can also complain and criticize, but you show character when you use self-control. You lead by example and can listen with an open mind to the conflict and hear both sides equally.

3. Practice active listening and keep communications flowing

Listen to understand and don’t allow screaming matches. You’d be surprised to learn the core of the problem might not even be what started the conflict. Dale Carnegie advises in his quote to, "Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding."

4. Stay neutral. Focus on the action and not the person

"The most difficult thing in any negotiation, almost, is making sure that you strip it of the emotion and deal with the facts." Howard Baker quoted. Avoid playing the blame game. Emotions get the better of you and when emotions are involved the core problem can’t necessarily be identified. Don’t choose sides. Listen to each side of the story and try to come up with a solution that has a win/win outcome.

5. Encourage creative solutions

Review all the options and solutions. Involve both parties in coming up with a solution. Ask them what they think will be the BEST solution and not necessarily favouring one or the other. Greg Anderson said: "The Law of Win/Win says, 'Let's not do it your way or my way; let's do it the best way.’”

6. Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to call for back-up. If a conflict situation gets out of hand or you don’t know how to handle the crisis, ask your Human Resources Manager to get involved. Especially in severe cases like bullying or harassment. You can also read up on the issues and what other people did or experienced and learn from them. It might spark an interesting solution.

7. Apologise and be sincere

Toba Beta said, “In this life, when you deny someone an apology, you will remember it at the time you beg forgiveness.” A lot of the time a conflict situation can be stopped in its tracks by a mere apology. But people are stubborn and don’t like apologies because it feels like admitting guilt. But to admit when you are wrong shows character and that you take responsibility for your actions. An apology should be thought well through and not be made in haste. It should be sincere and intended. Benjamin Franklin advises in his quote: “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

Many people shy away from conflict. They are afraid of it because they don’t know how to handle it. When people are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to resolve conflict successfully, they tend to be more confident in their approach. Visit www.themindspa.co.za or call 010 110 0226 to get more information on the course outline on Conflict Management. Upskilling your staff in conflict resolution and management will assist them in handling various situations, from customer service and complaints to disputes within their teams.

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