Silhouette of two professionals engaged in conflict resolution.

Five Conflict-Resolution Strategies for the Workplace

Revised: March 15, 2024

Conflict is something most of us would rather not encounter. When we see others engaged in disagreement, our first impulse may be to just walk away. However, you may not have this privilege if you're employed in a leadership role with your organization. If your company relies on you to ensure your department meets expectations and fosters a pleasant and non-toxic environment, it may be your responsibility to step in. 

Unresolved conflicts and heated words exchanged across the lunch table are not conducive to a happy workplace. They make others feel uncomfortable, and they can escalate into worse scenarios. To keep your workplace safe and your team positive and productive, you must sometimes draw upon your leadership skills in conflict resolution to save the day, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

Common Causes of Conflict in the Workplace

What causes conflict in the workplace? According to the Harvard Business Review, most workplace dust-ups can be attributed to just four factors:

  1. Poor communication
  2. Unclear performance expectations
  3. Time management issues
  4. Cloudy definitions of employee roles

Whether these occur on the part of management or staff doesn't really matter. Each can create a work environment that seems confusing, toxic, or unfair. For example, if nobody on the team has a clearly defined part to play, their roles may overlap, leaving one or two employees feeling the brunt of the pressure. Similarly, if no one on the team is clear on the project due date, this could cause some work to be finished early while other work is turned in late. As a result, the team misses the project deadline, and everyone involved gets a red mark on their record, regardless of whether they were the offender.

These are the types of issues that cause discord and dissatisfaction on the job. The good news is that most of them can be avoided through solid leadership. However, if these small issues go unaddressed and not corrected, your employees will feel the pain. They may begin to view management as unfair or biased and may start looking for new positions with other companies. Your organization, as a whole, may suffer, too, especially if it earns a reputation for fostering a non-inclusive workplace environment. If you want your department or organization to stand out as a reputable and enjoyable place to work, you must become a master at conflict resolution.

Key Conflict Resolution Skills

As a team leader, manager, or department supervisor, how do you resolve old conflicts that have haunted your department for years and defuse new conflicts before they become problematic? The answer lies in strong leadership. If you wish to advance to a management level in any industry, you're going to need proven leadership skills and skills in active listening, including those that allow you to resolve long-standing conflicts. You can learn these skills by earning your master's degree in leadership at Champlain College Online. Many of the skills you'll learn in this program will benefit you both on and off the job.

Effective Communication Techniques

Do you consider yourself an effective listener? Do you maintain eye contact when someone comes to you with a concern? Do you actively listen to ensure you're gaining a clear understanding of the problem? Are you respectful of your employee's feelings?

You may think you've mastered these skills, but does your body language agree? If you're saying all the right things but unable to look the person in the eye and are maintaining a confrontational stance with your arms crossed angrily in front of your chest, they may not feel like they've been heard.

Emotional Intelligence in Conflict Management

How would you rate your emotional intelligence during difficult conversations? Do you try to see yourself in your employee's situation? Do you hold off making quick judgment calls and reacting to water-cooler gossip? As a leader, you must be above these things. You must have empathy and self-awareness and be well-versed in company-approved language regarding DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging).

These skills are especially important today as our society becomes more and more attuned to problems such as inequality, gender definition, and ageism. The vocabulary has changed, and so have the expectations. Emotional intelligence is vital in keeping your work environment pleasant and your workforce satisfied.

Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

What about your problem-solving skills? Are you good at seeing where the problem initially began? Sometimes, not even the person who comes to you with the issue will be able to identify its root cause, but you must know which questions to ask to make that apparent. Then you and your employee, team, or department must arrive at a suitable solution together. In this way, everyone involved feels heard. The problem not only goes away, but employee morale increases as a by-product of your resolution 

Top 5 Conflict Management Strategies

When it comes to resolving workplace conflicts, there are five strategies you must employ. Master these five important lessons, and you'll become a better and more effective leader whom people feel they can trust.

1. Address the Conflict

Ignoring a problem in the workplace may seem like a good idea. Like a stray cat, if you don't feed it, it will eventually go away. However, when it comes to people's problems, ignoring them is rarely the right solution. This reaction can cause employees to feel bullied, forgotten, unimportant, and disgruntled. Instead, be proactive when you first suspect something is not correct. Follow the appropriate steps toward conflict resolution and address the problem instead of pretending to be unaware.

2. Clarify the Issue Causing the Conflict

Take the time to find out exactly what's going on. Check your sources, and don't rely on the company rumor mill. Misinterpretations may only escalate the issue, so ensure you approach the right people and ask the right questions.

3. Bring the Involved Parties Together to Talk

To get to the root of the problem, you must go directly to the source: the two or more parties involved in the conflict. While it's fine to talk with them separately, there should be a time when you bring them together, acting as a mediator. Allow them to talk through their issues and help them find healthy solutions. Be open and positive in your communication, and encourage them to do the same.

4. Identify a Solution

Hopefully, by the time you have reached this step, you will have arrived at a solution acceptable to everyone involved. Emphasize the importance of a win-win scenario, where everyone keeps their job, and tension at work is reduced. Offer compromises or trade-offs that employees can use to make each other happy while maintaining their own sense of peace. Let participants know that finding a workable solution is the only acceptable outcome.

5. Monitor and Follow Up

Follow-up is vital to good conflict resolution, so you must check back in to view the results of your negotiations. Is everyone abiding by the agreement? Are both parties satisfied with the outcome? Are boundaries being observed? If not, you may invite everyone to your office for a second conversation to de-escalate the situation before it repeats. In extreme cases, you may have to call upon your strong leadership skills and good judgment to make a difficult decision, such as demotion or termination.

Role of Emotional Intelligence in Conflict Resolution

But what about those employees who have a knack for getting under your skin? They seem to have an innate knowledge of manipulating your emotions, and nothing gives them more satisfaction than making you lose your cool. Training and education are vitally important when addressing this type of team member because losing your emotional regulation and resorting to angry words or name-calling could get you in deep with your HR department.

Emotional regulation is the ability to control how you react to what others say and do. On the inside, you may be filled with resentment. However, outwardly, you must appear calm and reasonable to have constructive interactions and resolve workplace conflicts.

Conflict Resolution in Leadership

As a workplace leader, you are responsible for handling yourself and your staff professionally, especially regarding conflict management. Taking a course or earning a degree in leadership can introduce you to that responsibility and show you how to achieve it, even in the most challenging situations.

Leading by Example

The most important way to reach your employees and gain their trust is to lead by example. Don't engage in behavior that's off-limits to others. Don't expect more from somebody else than you do of yourself. Lastly, treat your team members how you want to be treated. Find common ground and keep an open dialogue during uncomfortable interactions.

Providing Training and Development Opportunities

Try to remember that simply because you understand that certain language or behavior is taboo, your team members may not, which is where training and development programs can help. By putting all team members through the same orientation and training classes and providing ongoing training as policies change, you're giving them tools to succeed. Human relations in the workplace are much more complicated than they used to be. Companies are now much more aware of how easy it is to foster a hostile workplace unintentionally. By allowing toxic behaviors to continue or pretending they didn't happen, you could leave yourself and your company vulnerable to legal action. The best alternative is simply to make sure everyone receives the necessary workplace training.

Leveraging Conflict Resolution Skills for Career Growth

Do you have dreams of moving up within your company? Just because you're in a leadership role today doesn't limit you to what you may accomplish tomorrow. If you have your eye on the CEO's position, having strong skills in conflict resolution may help you one day achieve your goal.

Strengthening Your Skills With a Degree

If you're ready to begin strengthening your conflict resolution, decision-making, active listening, and empathy skills, earning your Online Master's Degree in Leadership at Champlain College Online could be the most important career decision you'll make. At CCO, we understand the challenges of returning to college with full-time work, life, and family responsibilities. That's why our online programs are highly flexible and designed to meet the needs of students in the 21st century.

Advance Your Conflict Resolution Skills Today

To learn about the many benefits of earning your online degree at Champlain College Online, we invite you to reach out today for more information. One of our friendly and experienced admission advisors will be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding enrollment in our Online Master's Degree in Leadership.

Since 1878, Champlain College has been helping students achieve their career goals. In 1993, we began adding online learning opportunities for adult professionals and nontraditional students who needed more flexibility to earn their degrees. Today, we're proud to boast a student body of more than 3,000 students who log in from all over the world to earn their degrees in fields such as leadership, management, and business administration. We hope to count you among them. Find out more today.

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