Everyone experiences some kind of conflict in the workplace at some point. Conflict can arise in many situations, but disagreements with coworkers commonly cause interpersonal strife. In fact, in an 18-month research study, nearly 100 percent of respondents cited interactions with coworkers as the primary cause of conflict at work. Conflict in the workplace also impacts employee productivity. According to one study, a single employee spends nearly three hours every workweek trying to resolve some kind of conflict. Even worse, unresolved conflicts can impact employee engagement and have negative implications for company culture.
When the possibility for conflict exists just about everywhere in the workplace—and the cost of leaving it unresolved is high—employees need skills to help them successfully resolve conflict in the workplace and move forward. Here are 5 skills that can help them do that.
Employees need to know how to talk to each other in order to understand the source of conflict, as well as alternate points of view—but communicating well involves more than talking and getting your point across to others. Strong communication also includes listening. When employees know how to use active listening techniques, like asking questions, restating, and using analogies to rephrase statements, the chances of resolving the conflict become greater. Other communication behaviors that support effective conflict resolution include:
- Reading nonverbal cues
- Knowing when to interrupt and when to stay quiet
- Being clear and concise when explaining a concept or opinion
Individual personalities and disagreements can often give rise to conflict within a team. However, when individuals understand the behaviors that lead to successful team functioning, they can avoid and reduce the occurrence of conflict in the workplace. Some of the behaviors that demonstrate strong teamwork skills and help resolve workplace conflict include:
- Focusing on shared goals instead of disagreements
- Ensuring each member of the team has a clearly defined role, which can help reduce disagreements over areas of responsibility
- Periodically suppressing personal ego and desires, and instead considering the needs of other members of the team
Problem-solving skills aid conflict resolution by helping individuals objectively approach a challenge and consider the many possible solutions to it. When individuals know how to tackle a problem rather than avoid or deny it, they can prevent or even reduce the chance of a conflict emerging.
There are some specific problem-solving actions that individuals can take to resolve conflict in the workplace successfully. Once a conflict has been identified, it’s helpful to attempt to fully understand the source or cause of the conflict before attempting to resolve it. Effective problem-solving also includes evaluating various solutions and taking care to consider multiple interests and points of view. And as anyone who has ever experienced conflict can attest, sometimes the chosen solution is unsuccessful. Individuals can use problem-solving skills by demonstrating a willingness to revisit unresolved issues and try another solution.
4. Stress Management
Sometimes, stress can kindle the fires of workplace conflict, and at other times, the conflict itself creates a stressful situation for employees. Whichever comes first, employees need the necessary tools to manage their emotions, as well as the ability to cope with the frustrations of workplace conflict.
When employees have learned the strategies for preventing and reducing stress, they’re more able to calmly express themselves and work with others to resolve disagreements or discord. Some of the stress management behaviors that help with conflict management include:
- Where appropriate, injecting a dose of humor to dilute the anger and frustration that often accompany conflict
- Taking well-timed breaks that can bring calm in the midst of flared tempers
- Talking to others as a means of releasing bottled-up emotions
5. Emotional Agility
Conflict in the workplace can trigger strong emotions, especially when the conflict causes an employee to feel their position or employment is threatened. Therefore, emotional agility is a key conflict resolution skill as it allows one to understand the emotions of all individuals engaged in a conflict, including their own. Being emotionally aware also includes the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and practice empathy and compassion.
Leadership development can help cultivate emotional agility and provide useful strategies for resolving conflict successfully. For example, it can teach individuals to master influencing techniques and learn how to leverage relationships for successful outcomes.
Improving Conflict Resolution Skills Can Make a Real Difference
Most people need help improving their ability to approach conflicts with confidence and calm, rather than avoiding them or just trying to smooth things over. Many useful behaviors support effective conflict resolution, including taking steps to understand and listen to multiple viewpoints and keeping emotions in check. Thankfully, a combination of leadership development and conflict resolution skills training can help individuals learn new behaviors and grow in the areas of communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and more.