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How to Successfully Defuse Conflicts at Work

How to Successfully Defuse Conflicts at Work

It’s probably true that every business has conflicts at some point. Whether it’s a team member who feels they are being burdened with too much workload or disagreements over the best way to proceed with a task, conflict is an unavoidable part of business life. But it’s when these smaller conflicts build up into tension, resentment and dislike between members of the team that it can be a real problem. If you are the manager of a team, it is your job to deal with these situations. So here are six steps to help you successfully defuse conflicts at work.

Step One: Understand that conflict is inevitable

The biggest mistake that any manager or team leader can make is to assume that every conflict will resolve itself if it is avoided. Actually, if staff find themselves in conflicts with others and they don’t see anyone taking an interest in the problem it can be a huge issue.

Often conflicts – at their base level – are a positive, as they could indicate that workers are looking to do a better job and feel that something is standing in their way. When you see it from this side, conflicts become an opportunity to improve the way things work in your team.

So keep your eyes open for conflicts as they can build up slowly as a cumulative issue. When you see a conflict that is in danger of boiling over it can be the perfect time to step in. Look for behavioural issues within the team and stay aware of potential problems.

Step Two: Stay calm and be positive

As mentioned before, there’s no need to look on conflict as something inherently dangerous. Instead as the team leader, you need to be a figure of calm while this happens. If you can stay in control then the conflict is likely to get sorted out far more quickly than if you get angry. You need to focus your efforts on getting the issue dealt with in a way that is beneficial to everyone, wasting time and energy on rage is just unhelpful.

Step Three: Make no assumptions

Unfortunately it is the practice of some managers to attempt to resolve a conflict before they have actually learned any of the details of what is going on. Of course it’s natural that we make certain assumptions about members of our teams but these must be left behind if you are going to successfully resolve a conflict. Many problems are actually caused by simple misunderstandings rather than being anything that is a serious issue.

Step Four: Listen to the people involved

To get the bottom of the problem you need to take the time to listen to the people involved. Have private conversations with those people who are in conflict and try to see the problem from both perspectives. Stay entirely neutral and friendly to those involved.

Step Five: Identify the problem

While it’s tempting to assume that one party is entirely blame for a problem, it’s the case that the vast majority of workplace grievances result of issues on both sides. As the manager it’s your job not only to establish which issues are important to the people in conflict and find a way to resolve them. It may be the case that it is a company process that causes the problem, in which case this can be sorted out easily. However, if the issue revolves around individual workers it can be important to bring them together to sort it out.

Step Six: Find a workable solution

Any time there is a conflict within a team where there are genuine problems for both parties, the most important thing to do is to find common ground. Help your team to compromise and find a solution that everyone can be happy with. Ultimately, most workers will be able to empathise with others and take on board the changes that need to be made. It’s worth remembering that you’re going to have to deal with negative feelings from those individuals who have had problems. So you should confront these issues head on to help everyone see the other side of the story.


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Mike James, small business owner and independent content writer – working together with staff management software specialist Planday on this and a series of workplace themed articles.

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