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ICP’s Guide to Resolving Conflict in the Workplace

As I’m sure we would all agree, workplace conflict comes up in many workplaces. You might be surprised however, to hear that it can be actually be beneficial…if approached correctly.

Conflict so often turns negative not because of differing opinions, but because of how we express these opinions.

Disagreements in approaching a task, or an argument over different views are just two of many examples of how conflict arises. And we’ve all seen how these can be damaging to relationship in the office, if handled poorly. However, if these moments of tension are fostered as a common obstacle and viewed as an opportunity it can be highly useful.

By following these ten steps you, and your workplace, can grow through workplace conflict and maintain an enjoyable workplace culture.

Understand the issue

It is important that once you find yourself involved in a conflict that you answer these two questions; What caused it? What emotions surround it? Allowing for a moment to answer this will give you perspective and clarity in resolving the issue. Also, it may be that the conflict will not go away on its own, rather there can be a risk that is can fester and get worse if ignored.

Define acceptable behaviour

Managers should define what is appropriate behavior so everyone is clear about what is expected and accepted. Knowing what behavior is expected from you and from others draws a line in how conflict should be handled, and highlights when this line has been crossed and appropriate action needs to be taken. Defining acceptable behavior should also be done on a personal level. How do you want to hold yourself in light of conflict? And what behavior will guarantee the best outcome for you and your colleagues?

Speak well, listen well

When speaking, be assertive; but give others an opportunity to speak and be an effective listener. Showing respect for the opinion instantly helps people regulate their emotions tied up with the situation and allows for more effective communication. Don’t interrupt, don’t get distracted, just take in what they have to say and allow them to repay the favour when it’s your turn to speak.

Walk in their shoes

This is so often said be little practiced. But if you make the conscious effort to consider the other party involved you can strategize for the best outcome and understand their standpoint. If you are managing a team and there is conflict between team-members this also applies; be deliberate about seeing the issue from all perspectives and remain as independent as possible.

Meet halfway

If you are involved in the conflict yourself, you may not like to admit it, but you aren’t right all of the time, at least not 100% right. So consider this, compromise and make adjustments in light of what someone else has to say. Taking two people’s perspectives and combining the best from both is a much more effective solution.

Provide clarity about roles and responsibilities

Clarity in this aspect prevents any confusion around what everyone are attempting to achieve. Conflict frequently arises because of confusion and people not being on the right page. So if you are leading a team and there is conflict emerging, then often a really valuable step is to make sure that everyone is clear on their roles and their responsibilities.

Help people to understand difference – the difference in personality as well as point of view

Coach yourself and your team to foster diversity and appreciates differences. Understanding the benefits of multiple perspectives builds acceptance across the group. It is when teams really appreciate diversity that conflict can be approached in a positive way. It is actually through conflict and different opinions that many complex issues are solved with break-through thinking.

Provide support for people when their emotions are getting the better of them

We have all let our emotions dictate an argument and we know it can sometimes be difficult to pull back the reigns, especially your pride is involved. In the first instance use empathy and remember that everyone can get emotional on occasions; it can be helpful to show some empathy as well. So, if your find a colleague’s emotions have the better of them make it easier for them get control again; use empathy, listen and reflect, don’t judge, give them some time to get it off their chest – in essence you are getting to the outcome faster if you help them a little and not inflame the situation. If a particular colleague is really struggling with this then explore if there is some coaching support available for them.

Be deliberate about not giving preferential treatment

If you are leading a team or a project and conflict comes up, then it is really important to be seen to not be taking sides, to be impartial. The techniques here involve taking time to hear all sides of the story; ask questions that get to a deeper level in the issue; ask for examples when there are general comments and get back to people on important topics.

Set clear boundaries and standards

AN important part of managing conflict is to set clear boundaries. When you are working through a conflict situation then clearly state what the issue is that you are working on and try to stick to that. Sometimes you may need to restate things and bring it back onto the most important issue to be resolved. Not setting boundaries can lead to a bigger problem to solve and it can also escalate issues.

Incorporate these steps into the workplace wherever you can and take the opportunity to practice them when you see conflict emerging. Recognising conflict is an opportunity, not a threat, is key to achieving the best outcome. If you find yourself in a disagreement, try these few steps to solve the problem:

  • Only discuss the issue; don’t let the argument take a different trajectory

  • Understand everyone is different and have different opinions

  • Find a compromise

  • Organise a mediator

  • Assess the importance of the argument; could this just be an argument for arguments sake

  • Be courteous.

If you have any questions about workplace conflict or would be interested in further guidance in this area, please give us a call on 07 3852 2441 or email

With a team of Psychologists and Associates across Australia, ICP works with leadership teams and Executives to help drive culture change programs, leadership development programs and workshop facilitation to help achieve core business objectives. Contact us today to learn more.

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