Workplace conflict will happen – even in the most well oiled and peaceful workplaces. There are situations where good managers recognize a possible conflict and do their best to get a handle on it before it escalates, but even the best managers can’t always predict when a conflict will arise. Some conflicts are building over time and finally reach a boiling point, while other conflicts are a spur of the moment situation and people just react, sometimes poorly. Being that workplace conflict is essentially unavoidable, what are some ways it can be prevented, managed effectively, and resolved without a major escalation?
Five Tips for managing conflict in the workplace
1. De-escalate Immediately
The first order of business when there is a conflict in the workplace is to de-escalate. Get everyone involved to calm down and take a break. That might involve taking one person aside and then instructing someone else to take the other person outside for fresh air. Once the involved parties have been separated and removed from the situation, they can calm down. This is a good opportunity to talk to the individual and get their side of the story. Under no circumstances is this a chance to reprimand the individual or validate them. This is only a break, and a time to gather the details of what is going on. Once all parties have calmed down, peaceful discussions can take place.
2. Identify and React
Years ago, I was a manager at a consulting firm and heard two individuals gradually arguing louder and louder, and as I turned the corner into the room, they were nose to nose and getting ready to come to blows. Acting quickly, I had to identify who was arguing and get in between them to prevent it from getting worse. In this case, quickly identifying who is involved gives the manager or coworker a chance to talk them down from their ledge. Had I simply seen who it was and then just watched and listened, someone may have thrown a punch. At that point, conflict becomes a human resources intervention. Solve workplace conflict at the lowest possible level.
3. Recognize it and Prevent It
The best thing that can happen in a workplace is for a manager or coworker to recognize a pattern and see where there might be conflicts in the near future. By focusing on prevention, the conflict never escalates. Recognizing a pattern of frustration or disagreements can help the manager see where it might go and then take action to eradicate any further conflicts.
4. Listen More, Talk Less
Many times, the manager in your workplace acts as a mediator. I don’t think that’s the job they want to do, but it just comes with the territory. There will be conflicts and arguments; this is where the manager has to sit down with each involved party and listen… not talk… just listen. Listening is a powerful tool to use as a manager when dealing with workplace conflict. The manager’s job isn’t to validate the person’s concerns or take sides. They just need to listen and gather details. After listening to both sides, a good manager will then sit down with both parties and act as an intermediary to help drive the communication between them. The less a manager can talk, the better. Learning the skill of active listening will pay dividends in conflict management.
5. Don’t Be Party to It
If you find yourself in a workplace conflict, stop, take a breath, and talk to someone other than the individual or individuals you are struggling with. Make your manager aware of what is going on, since that is their job after all. If a manager can gather details as to what is going on in the workplace, they can step in and present a solution that would dissolve and avoid the conflict. Don’t be party to a conflict, de-escalate it, prevent it where you can, and you will find that your workplace is a more peaceful place than you initially thought it was.