Conflict in the workplace is something that can be extremely detrimental to productivity. The effects of conflict are not just felt by those involved in the conflict, but by those that are witness to it. Many incidents of conflict can be avoided or dealt with quickly, without much impact, if you have the right skills. So how can you manage conflict effectively?

I recently carried out some conflict resolution training with one of my clients, who were keen to deal with conflicts in a more positive way and try and reach fair resolutions that worked for all involved. Disagreements and conflicts are inevitable when people are working together, and conflict has the potential to create serious problems if not managed effectively.

What is conflict?

Conflict is a situation between two individuals who feel angry and perceive the other to be at fault, and act in ways that can cause problems within the organisation.

Conflict tends to develop when there’s a particular problem between individuals that needs addressing.

Responses to conflict

Fight – we engage in force to cause the other party to freeze or flee

Flight – we withdraw or flee from the conflict

Freeze – we do nothing but wait to see what happens next

Face it – approach the problem in a calm and rational way

With “face it” being the ideal approach – once we recognise our impulses to fight, flee or freeze, we can take steps to face and resolve conflict.

Five steps to successfully manage conflict

  1. Don’t avoid it – this will make things worse. Rising tensions reduce productivity and create barriers to communication, with the outcome potentially being that employees will leave. Rather than avoiding it, seek out the source and intervene proactively, supportively, quickly, and fairly.
  2. Understand everyone’s position. People need to understand each other’s motivation and reasoning if conflict is to be resolved positively, with both sides having the chance to explain their position. This allows people to feel heard and valued and creates the opportunity to identify common ground, which serves as a starting point for finding resolution. While facilitating the conversation, use active listening skills, show empathy, ask relevant questions and provide balance responses, helping both sides to move towards a positive resolution.
  3. See conflict as an opportunity. Managed effectively, conflict can break through unproductive ways of thinking, stimulate creativity and innovation, and bring people closer together. Managers play an important part in resolving these differences and their actions determine whether the outcome will be positive or negative.
  4. View conflict as a growth opportunity. Focus on how you can achieve a positive outcome which will give people the opportunity to grow and develop.
  5. Involve the participants in the solution. No one likes a solution being imposed on them. The most successful resolutions are those when the participants play a part in shaping the solution, which allows them to collaborate, accommodate and compromise. Even if a win-win outcome is not possible, involving both sides in a discussion can go a long way to identifying a compromise that works for everyone. All parties involved need to share their respective positions directly with one another, which gives them the opportunity to empathise and see others’ positions.
  6. Stay calm and focus on the problem. Conflicts can escalate very quickly, and anger and resentment can end up driving decision, especially when communication is poor. The risk here is becoming fixated on negative emotions. Shift the focus to the future – not “Who’s fault is this?” to “How can we resolve this?”

Liverpool HR can offer training on positive conflict resolution – contact us here if this is something you need in your organisation. 

T: 0151 728 7717


Twitter: @LiverpoolHR