Is one of your employees triggering resentment towards them from the rest of their team? Are departments in your organisation constantly in conflict?
That can have a damaging impact on productivity, organisational finances, and employee morale. As a leader, you must be able to identify conflicts and any circumstances that could cause them before these disagreements occur, and prepare for them by putting in place safeguards to prevent them from materialising, or by taking proactive measures to address conflict if it does emerge.
Below we discuss the benefits of conflict management, briefly outline ways to improve your conflict management skills and explore how leaders who learn to manage conflict can experience many different scenarios than leaders who don’t.
What is conflict management?
Although blogs use the terms ‘conflict management’ and ‘conflict resolution’ interchangeably, technically speaking, they’re not quite the same. Despite including elements of conflict resolution, conflict management focuses on developing and implementing strategies to reduce conflict, whereas resolution, as the name suggests, concentrates on ending it.
If a manager doesn’t devise good conflict management strategies and tensions arise, resentment can simmer as employees squabble continuously and fail to resolve the issues of contention. This drains everybody, and because you and your employees will struggle to concentrate on their work, it damages productivity. Motivation dwindles, and failing to manage conflict diminishes your own leadership credibility because your team will be expecting you to take some form of appropriate action.
The benefits of conflict management
Although it’s not as immediately obvious as some other skills, conflict management requires planning and critical thinking, and it helps your organisation to keep moving forward. Good conflict management can yield some outstanding benefits:
- Greater productivity: You’ll be able to foster an environment of innovation that carries your organisation forward. Conflict management enables you to make better decisions in stressful circumstances and reduces the amount of re-work you have to do. Importantly, you’ll experience less absenteeism and fewer ‘presenters’, people who attend work but aren’t productive when they’re there because of health conditions or other performance-impairing problems.
- Cost reduction: You don’t have to invest as much in recruitment and training because you’re retaining talent easier. You’ll generate a better return on investment because your team are working together more effectively and pulling in the same direction. You can also implement measures more effectively and more cohesively
- Retention of your best performers: You’ll empower your employees to have a positive impact, and you’ll also enjoy better working relationships with your team. They’ll feel more motivated and engaged, and communicate openly with each other
- Risk management: Managing conflict protects your organisation’s reputation and yours. People will feel less inclined to speak ill of you to others. Not only this, but it also mitigates potential legal risks, as well as the risk of acts of sabotage, aggression, violence or vandalism from disgruntled employees
How can I improve my conflict management skills?
Strong conflict management skills can keep a team happy, motivated, and productive, whereas poor ones can allow the resultant ill-feeling caused by the conflict to eat away at morale, productivity, and the overall quality of the work submitted.
You can find out more about managing conflict in our ‘Managing conflict in the workplace’ post. Taking a conflict management course is an ideal way to improve your skills, too. If you don’t have time to participate in a conflict management course, however, below we briefly set out some ways to build better conflict management skills:
Understand the source of conflict
There are so many different potential causes of conflict in the workplace:
- Poor communication
- Lack of training
- Business values
- Personality clashes
- Unrealistic expectations
- Unresolved issues in the workplace
- Unfair treatment
- Bullying and harassment
- Poor working environment
- Major change.
Understanding the root cause of a conflict is essential so you can identify circumstances that might generate conflict and act before disharmony manifests itself.
Practice active listening
Active listening helps you to build strong relationships, earn the trust of others, and make it easier to work with them, reducing the potential for conflict. It will also help you detect situations in which a dispute or clash of perspectives could be on the horizon.
If the circumstances do degenerate into conflict, active listening is necessary to establish a safe, non-judgmental space so your team can speak openly. You must remain objective. By listening actively, you grant yourself the opportunity to understand the full picture and hear each team member’s message during the conflict. This is the core purpose of active listening.
Learn to manage your emotions and remain positive
If a conflict emerges or appears to be imminent, you must remain as calm and in control of your emotions as possible, which play a stronger part in our responses than we sometimes realise. Understanding and recognising your emotions will enable you to control your emotional responses to situations, whereas losing control of them and being unable to keep calm can blind you to potential solutions and what’s happening.
Learn from conflicts
Conflict situations teach valuable lessons from which you can learn to prevent the same situation or similar ones from materialising in the future. When you resolve a conflict in your workplace, analyse the causes of the conflict and evaluate how you addressed the situation. What solved the problem? Did anything aggravate the situation? Be mindful, too, of the circumstances that led to the conflict, so that you can act fast if you see them developing again.
Conflict management: part of a leader’s toolkit
A leader who can manage conflict will be able to lead their team or organisation more efficiently, which is why it’s important to make conflict management skills a part of your skillset. When you’re under pressure, you’ll be able to cope with decision-making more easily. You will also be able to keep projects and initiatives moving forward, reduce costs, and maintain desirable levels of productivity; due to your team being less impacted by bickering or misunderstandings. There will be greater harmony between employees, who will be feeling more motivated and generally happier at work than if there was tension between them. They’ll be able to focus more on their work, and you will too.
What could await leaders who don’t build their conflict management skills?
The above is a much different scenario to the type you could face if you don’t work on your conflict management skills. Not realising a situation could generate conflict means you are unprepared for it. As a result, you could become side-tracked by differences of opinion and dealing with them will set you back on your tasks. In extreme cases, the dispute could boil over into acts of aggression, violence or vandalism by an employee.
At the very least, your employees will find it harder to concentrate on their jobs if there’s tension on the team, in the department or the organisation, and verbal discussions may occur. Productivity can deteriorate, as can the quality of work submitted, and morale can also wane.
Employees can become disillusioned not only with their jobs, their colleagues, or the situation but also with your handling of situations. Employees can become so disillusioned that they leave the organisation or request a transfer to another team or department, forcing you to expend time and resources hiring someone and/or training them to replace this employee. This creates the problem of increasing the remaining team members’ workloads, breeding further possible resentment.
Book a conflict management course with us
Conflict management is a vital leadership skill that enables you to address disharmony before it even occurs and lessen the impact of any that does occur. This takes planning and critical thinking and entails proactivity to stay in control of situations. Equipping yourself with robust conflict management skills can prepare you to lead a more productive, more profitable organisation in which the workplace environment fosters conditions for people to work harmoniously together.
We encourage you to sign up for our ‘Conflict Transformation: Tackling Conflict in the Workplace’ course that teaches you to identify potential causes of conflict and approach workplace conflicts confidently and effectively. On this course, which we provide online and in physical face-to-face settings, you’ll learn about the causes of conflict and be able to engage more comfortably in challenging conversations
To find out more and book your place, click on the course link, or contact us using the form on our Contact page, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0161 826 3139. You can browse more of our courses by visiting our Courses page and clicking on the course page, where you can then book a place if you wish to participate. You may also do this by contacting us via the channels stated.
Leadership is a journey, and to excel takes patience, perseverance and the development of solid leadership skills. We look forward to assisting you on your journey and helping you to build up the skillset it takes to lead your team, department or organisation to success.
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