4 Ways Leaders Effectively Manage Employee Conflict

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Workplace conflict is far from an isolated occurrence. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, nearly 40% of UK workers have experienced some degree of conflict at work.


Business leaders play a crucial role in mitigating the negative impact of conflict. This can be partly achieved by fostering a healthy workplace culture that encourages trust and respectful communication. However, knowing how and when to act is just as important, so this article discusses four strategies you can use to manage employee conflict effectively.


Why Leaders Must Take The Initiative 


The effects of unresolved conflict can be highly damaging to workplace culture and eventually to a company’s productivity and reputation.


Workplace tension can result in:

1. Diagnose the Problem


This means understanding what type of conflict you are dealing with and its root cause in corporate settings. A 2014 piece of research classified workplace conflict into four types:

  • Hierarchical, which takes place between staff and their superiors.
  • Line staff, involving overlap between lines of responsibility or authority.
  • Functional, which involves disagreements over how to improve processes or performance.
  • Formal/informal, which takes place between and/or within departments or informal groups.

Examining workplace dynamics can help you detect the possible root causes of conflict. Some of the most common are:

  • Competing goals
  • Personality clashes
  • Unhealthy competition
  • Workflow disruption
  • Poorly defined roles
  • Communication errors

2. Act Promptly


In some cases, employee conflict is resolved between the affected parties without the intervention of managers or superiors. As a leader, you must develop decision-making skills and determine when the right time is to address a problem. 


Intervention should be timely and tactful. It may be best to adopt an informal approach first instead of launching a formal procedure that could be counterproductive. 


The main point to remember is that early-stage action can stop conflict from escalating and becoming harder to manage. Moreover, failing to act or delaying intervention may be interpreted as a lack of concern or unfairness. Eventually, this can erode trust in leadership across the organization.


3. Focus on the Facts


Conflict highlights differences between people. These differences can be caused by personality, working style, cultural or social background, and leaders should consider where conflict arises.


Understanding and respecting differences is a critical step in managing conflict. Doing this can help you stay objective and focus on the issue instead of entering a blame game.


Objectivity also means taking an authentic approach. Show those involved the specific ways in which conflict is affecting workplace dynamics. They may not be aware of the broader impact the problem has on the other party, teamwork, and organization.


4. Reinforce Shared Goals


The CIPD report mentioned earlier in this article states that disputes over performance or competence are the second most common cause of conflict. Individual differences can create a gap in perception that can turn into a full-blown dispute. Therefore conflict resolution efforts should revolve around making common goals more relevant than individual differences. 


First, to achieve this, revisit what these concepts mean in your corporate culture and consider how to support all your employees so they can reach their best performance. Reinforce collaboration and shared goals and outline how each individual can make a valuable contribution towards those goals. Every effort to manage conflict should end on a positive note and define how those involved can move forward together.


Conflict Resolution Is Where True Leadership Shows


Workplace conflict cannot be avoided entirely, but it can be successfully managed. Skilled leaders know that leadership is about building harmonious relationships and aligning human capital with organizational vision.


Implementing the suggestions outlined in this article can help you build an inspiring workplace culture and overcome one of the main challenges for 21st-century business leaders.

EMBRACE TENSIONS & EXPERIENCE POSITIVE CONFLICT RESOLUTION with our positive conflict resolution workshop. 

positive conflict resolution workshop

About the Author

Aaron Donovan

Aaron Donovan is the owner of AD Services Building Contractors, a leading construction company in Ireland that understands the importance of managing workplace conflict and how it results in better employee morale when resolved correctly.


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