Back to Back Issues Page
iManage, Issue #26 -- 3 Steps to Managing Conflict in the Workplace
September 11, 2011


3 Steps to Managing Conflict in the Workplace

John managed a successful landscaping business. He had 2 very capable teams, one which focused on mowing lawns, and the other on managing borders and other garden features. There was a great team spirit within the teams, but not between them.

In fact there was considerable bad feeling, with each team believing that they were, in many ways, superior to the other.

Conflict frequently broke out. The lawn mowing team were critical of weeds being dumped on their newly mowed lawns, and the landscaping team complained that the lawn mowing team were careless in their work.

John had to do something, as the negative feeling was being commented on by his clients.

Here are 3 steps I suggested to John for dealing with this simmering, unresolved conflict, that you may also find useful if facing a similar situation.

Step 1: Don't hide behind a boulder

Often when conflict arises within a workplace, there is a tendency for people to ignore it, and hope that it will go away. Resentments can simmer for long periods. Then one day, some small argument will trigger that buried resentment, which releases in an emotional outburst - often leaving a lot of damage in its wake.

If you see resentment building, address it with those concerned before it becomes a crisis.

Step 2: Pull out the weeds, step by step

If you are in a situation where conflict has been building for some time, then you may need to identify and deal with a range of issues. Meet with all the parties involved, both on a group and individual basis and identify the needs and concerns of each.

Aim to empathise and be patient; people need to "get things off their chest" so allow time for this without making judgements or appearing to take sides. People can become tunnel visioned. You may be able to offer an alternative viewpoint - but only do this when they are ready to listen.

Step 3: Feed and water the plants

Think carefully about the channel of communication you will use to help resolve the crisis and grow a healthy respect amongst your employees. Avoid a situation where opinions and insults are traded between the opponent parties by email. There can be a lot of mis-understandings and mis-interpretations in the written word which will make the situation worse.

When you feel that those involved are ready to move forward, aim to get the parties together and work on action items. Use an mediation expert to assist you if you feel this is necessary.

If a face to face meeting is not possible, then a skype conference call or videoconferencing may be the best option.

You may need to have a series of meetings; tackle the issues that are most easily resolved in the beginning.

Finally, remember that you may not be able to resolve every conflict that arises. At the same time, if you take the right steps and have a genuine interest in conflict resolution you will make progress to some degree - and your employees will respect you for it.

A good manager is like a good gardener; put in the effort and you will see the results.

Watch out for our free webinar on this topic later in the month..

For detailed advice on managing people - and yourself - in the workplace, download our Essential Management Skills Workbook Collection for a comprehensive, step by step approach with lots of practical tips.

Best wishes

Ann Halloran

Practical Management Skills

Practical management skills advice for business owners and managers. Get best practice tips on a personal development and people management skills such as time management, leadership, communication, managing change and more.

Content based on 30 years management/consultancy experience gained in a wide range of business sectors.

Back to Back Issues Page