8 Bulletproof Ways to Approach Team Conflict Management at Work

Occasional conflict is normal in any group setting. In fact, even some of the most efficiently-run workplaces experience team conflict. The goal is to avoid feeling too frustrated when it does occur. 

Enthusiastic business team celebrating a successful agreement with a handshake in a modern office.

The most efficient way to navigate team conflict and recover from it is to properly train your leadership and team members to respond in a healthy way. It also helps to understand the root cause so that you can add key strategies to your leadership tool kit that will help you manage conflict as it arises and prevent disruptions to your team’s workflow. 

Common Sources of Conflict in Teams

When people of various backgrounds and world views work together, this can create a natural rift or lack of understanding between people. Sometimes, this rift leads to full-blown conflict, and it will need to be handled swiftly. According to SHRM, 2020 led to a 44% increase in workplace volatility around election time. This contrasts with volatility increasing just 26% during the 2016 election season. The pandemic, social unrest and global uncertainties likely contributed to building tensions both inside and outside of work. 

Here are some other common sources of conflict within the workplace that tend to be present, regardless of what’s going on in the world outside of work. 

  • Personality differences
  • Poor or confusing communication
  • Unclear leadership structures or changes in management
  • Inequities of resources between departments or hierarchical levels
  • Lack of structure in day-to-day operations
  • Systemic changes to operations, such as layoffs, a merger, supply chain disruptions, etc. 
  • A diverse workforce that hasn’t been adequately trained in multiculturalism or diversity awareness
  • Weak or negative/competition-based culture

Any time there’s an increased rate of uncertainty and distress outside of work, as we’ve seen over the last year and a half, the frequency of conflicts in the workplace is bound to rise. This is why it’s crucial to always stay prepared and to invest heavily in efforts to create a positive, healthy workplace culture

8 Strategies to Effectively Manage Team Conflict

Remember, team conflict will always exist, so accepting this will help leaders know when to respond and how to do so in the most positive and productive ways possible. Managing conflict is a key soft skill, and the more employees work on it, the healthier your workplace will be. Start by training management on emotional intelligence so they can easily recognize the first signs of a problem and use creative thinking to respond.  

Here are some tried-and-true strategies for managing conflict in the workplace:

1. Make sure leaders are trained in mediation tactics

It can be beneficial to know how to mediate when a conflict is isolated between just a few individuals. This can help clear up misunderstandings that might otherwise blow out of proportion. It can also help people compromise more smoothly and avoid damaging their working relationships by getting too caught up in their emotions. 

2. Empower employees to use their own communication and emotional intelligence skills to respond to conflict

Knowing when to step in and mediate and when to simply offer your support to your employees from the sidelines isn’t always easy, but employees who feel empowered tend to grow more from navigating conflict because they were challenged to think critically and work together to come up with answers. 

3. Hold regular team meetings focused on the matter at hand

Regularly checking in with the team will help everyone stay focused on moving forward and will ensure that everyone knows you’re there for them. This is a great opportunity to give everyone who wants to voice their feelings or ask questions some space. 

4. Keep your door open to meet one-on-one

Some employees won’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with everyone. This is also a great way to get feedback from your employees on how you are able to directly help, as their manager. Constructive feedback will help you grow, just as your guidance will help your employees grow. 

5. Learn what information to focus on and what to let go of

Sometimes, things are said in times of conflict that come from a place of emotion and don’t require extra attention. Through experience, you will learn what can be let go in conversation, and what will require you to circle back around to. 

6. Avoid unconscious bias

Be aware of your own feelings, or unconscious bias, regarding the conflict. Avoid siding with the person or people with whom you agree with most strongly. Remaining fair and objective will help you earn your colleagues’ respect. 

7. Facilitate appropriate agreements

Work with your team to settle on a temporary solution, come up with contingent agreements or find more open-ended paths forward that work for you and your team. The sooner you can come to some kind of agreement, the better. Compromise will likely be a part of this strategy. If your mediation skills aren’t very strong, find a neutral third party who can help. 

8. Know when to execute your authority as the boss

Sometimes, a conflict may grow out of control, and this can cause lasting damage. There will be cases in which your authority can be trusted to make a final call and direct your employees on how to move forward. Be careful not to alienate your employees in this way or to exercise complete authority where it’s inappropriate to do so. Trust your influence and negotiation skills to work for you. 

Best Methods to Avoid Conflict at Work Altogether

When possible, it’s always best to try and avoid conflict before it starts. This isn’t always realistic, but it’s important that, as a leader, you keep your eye out for signs of conflict in the workplace. For example:

  • Watch for a sudden drop in your team’s productivity and quality of work
  • Stay on top of turnover rates, and ask questions when turnover becomes too common
  • If your employees are starting to call out more often than usual, they may need you to hold a one-on-one meeting to make sure everything is okay at work or in their home life
  • Keep an eye out for signs of increased anxiety or stress amongst your team members
  • If you are getting more complaints from your employees than usual, try not to ignore them or assume they’ll work themselves out
  • Watch for sudden changes in behavior from your employees
  • Routinely evaluate trends in your workplace culture, and keep employees united around common ideals and goals that promote wellness, diversity, belonging, and growth

Moving Forward After Resolving Team Conflict 

One of the best strategies you can implement for you and your team during times of conflict is to help the team come together around a common goal. Look ahead and help your team visualize what things will look like once you’ve reached a resolution. 

Again, team conflict is inevitable, and the way a team handles it says a lot about the organization’s overall health. Try and always view conflict as an opportunity for growth and improvement that will enhance your understanding of other people and make you a stronger manager. 

Would You Love More Support With Conflict Management?

One of the best ways to start working on your conflict management and resolution skills is to remain open to learning more about yourself and others. Learning is a powerful resource that can be used to deepen your organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and it can help you strategize on ways to strengthen your company culture. Begin by downloading this free eBook on “Creating a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion.” Remember, a strong culture is one of the best protective factors against team conflict. 

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