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How To Handle Workplace Conflict: 7 Steps To Cool the Embers

Dawid Pacholczyk 3622ceab56

02/02/2023 |

7 min read

Dawid Pacholczyk

Disputes, quarrels, or even fights happen in virtually every workplace, and if you are a team leader or a manager, the time to resolve workplace conflict will come for you, for sure. And since a workplace conflict is something inevitable, you’d better prepare for it right. Because the way you’ll react to it can make things all different.

Great company culture – including handling workplace conflict skillfully – is something that makes employees stay at an organization for good. And when ignored, a dispute between team members may escalate and have detrimental consequences, like costly legal issues, serious reputation flaws, huge morale worsening, and significant productivity decreases.

It is something worth fighting for, but how do you resolve conflicts in the workplace? How to solve a conflict with a co-worker? How do you resolve a conflict between employees and managers? And what are the most effective workplace conflict resolution strategies? Let’s see.


Table of contents:

1. Workplace conflict in brief

2. Handling workplace conflict in 7 steps

3. Resolving conflict at work – key takeaways


Workplace conflict in brief

To handle workplace conflict effectively, you need to, first and foremost, acknowledge that employee disputes exist. Moreover, they are hard to avoid in organizations where people from different backgrounds with various personalities, worldviews, and working styles come together.

There are many circumstances and reasons why disputes at work happen. Resolving workplace conflict examples include handling issues such as:

  • interpersonal conflicts,
  • creative idea conflicts,
  • power conflicts,
  • unfair treatment,
  • economic conflicts,
  • workplace discrimination,
  • unclear duties and responsibilities,
  • (the feeling of) being bullied or harassed,
  • work style conflicts.

Many of these problems can be boiled down to two things: poor management and poor communication. Improvements in these areas – that, obviously, require awareness of the soft skills’ importance and the willingness to improve them – can make a huge difference in the number of workplace conflicts and the ways they are handled.

Luckily, workplace discrimination is something that more and more organizations pay attention to and try to avoid. And that’s the case not only in the U.S., where the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – a federal agency that is to protect employees against it – exists. Age, race, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and pregnancy are only some of the factors taken into account in this regard.

Handling workplace conflict in 7 steps

The right conflict management can defuse the difficult situation promptly and raise the level of trust between the team leader and the staff. There are several workplace conflict resolution steps it’s good to know and implement when an employee conflict occurs.

These include:

Step 1: Facing the problem

Many people, including managers, tend to avoid difficult conversations, but it’s vital to confront the conflict promptly before it’s too late. What might go wrong? Well, some of the possible consequences of conflict in the workplace include serious escalation – violence, productivity decrease, and an increased level of stress, which may result in lowering employee morale and turnover surge in the long run.

Step 2: Identifying the issue

Finding the source – or the type – of the conflict is a vital element of solving workplace conflict. Interestingly, both (or all) sides of the conflict often have a completely different understanding of what has happened. Also, the core issue may not be what it seemingly is, so you need to have a very inquisitive attitude and really want to get to the core.

Step 3: Finding the right time and place

But to make people talk, they need to feel safe, in both emotional and physical terms. For this reason, you need to provide appropriate conditions and the right environment for a problem to be solved. This needs to be a private, secure place, proper for constructive conversation and open communication.

All employees involved should have enough time to speak, and the meeting should be held in a respectful, honest manner. Hiring a workplace mediator may be a good option, as being too close to a conflict makes it difficult to see things clearly.

Step 4: Letting people talk

Hearing both sides (without taking any of them) is one thing, and doing it right is another. It’s good to use active listening techniques, which help to build the interlocutor’s commitment and trust. Asking open-ended questions (starting with “Who”, “What”, “When”, “Why”, “How”, etc.), instead of making statements such as “You need to understand that…”, is vital in that regard. Repeating and rephrasing, as well as offering a true apology, and always assuming the best can be very helpful, too.

You should be careful, considerate, and calm when talking to all sides of the conflict. Showing the parties involved respect, genuine interest and empathy can be crucial and soothing in the acute phase of the crisis. Also, you shouldn’t be biased, frame issues, and make simple judgments – and, instead, listen without prejudice to all the participants of the meeting.

Step 5: Setting common goals

Now that you know what has come between them, you should let the parties involved find something that they have in common – and this can be a shared goal or something they all would like to happen in the process of dispute resolution. This can move things forward and give them a sense of engagement, commitment, and collaboration. The way to this objective should be divided into particular milestones.

Step 6: Finding the best solution

Finding the best solution to the problem may be a bumpy road that requires a lot of time and effort. If you want the issue to be tackled, each party should give their visions on how to achieve that goal – some possible solutions. An intense brainstorming session to find ways on solving the problem may be a good idea. The outcome – the final solution – should be accepted by everyone and common ground should be found.

Step 7: Documenting the agreements

Once an understanding is ready, it should be written down for future reference, with the evaluation time set. One reason for it is that the human memory is fallible and you may simply forget some of the arrangements made (like timelines). Another – is that when the arrangements take the form of an official deal or document, involved parties feel more obliged to comply with them.

There are some more actions that can make any work environment a place where workplace disputes will be less likely. One of them is to encourage employees to read and follow a staff manual (or an employee handbook) with things like the organization’s code of conduct and workplace policies clearly outlined.

Resolving conflict at work – key takeaways

There are countless low-level conflicts in every workplace, and some of them have the potential to grow quickly and get out of control. It’s good to keep an eye on what’s happening in your team before they turn into major ones, and looking for ways to handle conflict will simply be necessary.

When an employee-related incident occurs, it’s important to act wisely from the very beginning. Finding a root cause and better understanding of employees and their concerns is vital – not only to cool the embers immediately but also for the sake of long-term consequences.

Workplace conflicts can get worse due to employers’ or managers’ miscommunication or negligence. But sometimes, it's just employees that are problematic. Nearly half of new hires fail, mainly because their attitude to work is improper. Sadly, one bad apple can be detrimental to the entire organization, and causing conflicts at work is just one of the possible negative outcomes.

The process of handling conflict may not be easy, but it’s worth making the effort. If you do it right, you can solve the issue so that it doesn’t pop up in the future. On top of that, you get the employees’ respect, and you acquire some insightful information on what’s been hidden under the corporate surface.

Want to know how to resolve conflict without fighting? If you’re interested in improving your skills in dealing with a quarrel at the workplace effectively, contact Codete now. An experienced consulting team is here for you to tackle various leadership or project management issues.

Rated: 5.0 / 1 opinions
Dawid Pacholczyk 3622ceab56

Dawid Pacholczyk

Consulting Manager at Codete with over 15 years of experience in the IT sector and a strong technical background. Seasoned in working with multinational companies. Ph.D. student and lecturer at Polish-Japanese Academy of IT, focused on software architecture, software development and management.

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