Three strategies to keep in mind for successful conflict management in the workplace

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Clashing of ideas, varying personality types, and confined space means that harmony will at one point or another be disrupted. When that happens, we do not always feel heard and intentions can be misunderstood completely. According to this article in Inc. conflict is about what is being implied, implicitly or explicitly, either through tone of voice, language features like sarcasm, or body language. Successful conflict management starts with validating the other person, embracing the conflict instead of avoiding it and finding common ground in the discussion.  

The three questions that are at the core of any conflict

Drawing from Oprah Winfrey’s experience as a talk show host and interviewer, the same Inc. article explains that all arguments come down to three questions:   

  1.       Did you hear me?
  2.       Did you see me?
  3.       Did what I say mean anything to you?

These questions address our human need for validation, which is something we seek from birth both as a form of protection from our parents, and a way of navigating the world safely. We are a social species and as part of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy Of Needs’ theory, Maslow explained that love and belongingness are crucial for us to feel like we are accepted and that we are worthy of receiving affection. Feelings of validation and belonging start when we feel like we matter which happens when we feel like we are listened to. By simply listening to a person’s struggles without trying to minimise, distract or negotiate, we are saying to the person implicitly and explicitly that we care. We are saying that their feelings are important and justified.

Embrace conflict instead of avoiding it

Successful conflict management involves embracing conflict rather than avoiding or pretending that nothing ever happened, as well as taking the time to actively listen to what a colleague is saying. This article in Entrepreneur Europe suggests that it is much better to calmly discuss issues in a relaxed environment than let them fester and be buried beneath the surface, recommending that people make time to talk together and listen carefully. Both articles highlight that most damage is done when communication fails because the people involved in the conflict are not listening to each other properly, or are not giving the other person enough time to listen. This can lead to further misunderstandings that get buried under conflict and if not resolved properly, can make the conflict harder to negotiate.

Finding agreement amidst conflict

Finding agreement amidst conflict is another key to successful conflict management. This is not saying that you must agree with another person’s point of view, but merely try and understand their basis for that point of view and respect their opinion. By finding common ground within the interaction, through shared experiences or focusing on what you liked about another person’s way of working, conflict can be minimised. This behaviour shows a willingness to listen, put aside ego, and want to maintain harmony.

In overview, both articles explain the importance of truly listening to the other interlocutor in a conversation. Using none-divisive language that doesn’t shift blame such as “I see how you feel” and asking questions to further reassure the speaker that you are listening and want to support them, such as “What steps could I have made to make that situation better for you?”, helps with successful conflict resolution.

Conflict is a part of everyday life, but misunderstanding should not be the basis for discord in the workplace.

Molly LathamArticle by Molly Latham. Molly loves writing and likes to use words as a way of helping others. Having a chronic illness and disability means she has a unique insight, that she feels can be used to help others understand and support each other. In her spare time, she loves baking, reading and making new friends. She also loves going on walks in the countryside with her boyfriend and dog.

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