How to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

May 16 2024 | Insights
A man sitting on some steps with a laptop

Navigating relationships at work can sometimes be difficult, and disagreements may arise even with colleagues you consider friends. As a manager or executive, you carry the added responsibility of not only handling personal conflicts but also managing and resolving conflicts that appear across your organization.

Disagreements don't necessarily signify the end of professional or personal relationships. Instead, they present an opportunity for growth and understanding. Addressing conflicts constructively demonstrates maturity and can lead to stronger working relationships. If you find yourself in an unresolved disagreement with a coworker, it's crucial to approach the situation with professionalism and empathy.

How to manage interpersonal conflict at work

It’s important to note we are not referring to instances of bullying in the workplace. If you feel harassed or victimized by one or multiple colleagues, you should always report it to your HR department. Equally, as an executive, it’s your job to systemically stamp out bullying to avoid a toxic work culture. Harvard Business Review has put together a great article on how to stop workplace bullying. With that addressed, here are some steps to manage and resolve professional disagreements:

1.      Focus on events and behavior, not their personality

It’s important to stick to specifics about the situation at hand, targeting your colleague’s personality traits is not only unfair but often irrelevant too. Try to remain constructive and objective when providing feedback, this way it will be better received and more easily actioned.

2.      Actively listen to your colleague

When we’re feeling frustrated or attacked, it can be tempting to interrupt. However, understanding that your voice isn’t the most important is crucial in conflict resolution. To ensure you’ve heard and understood your colleague completely, we suggest paraphrasing their argument back to them. This demonstrates respect for their perspective and improves your understanding of their position.

3.      Identify your areas of agreement and disagreement

Between the two of you, summarize each point of contention. If you disagree on where your differences lie, continue talking things through until you’re on the same page. It’s important to understand the areas of agreement too as this will prepare you for the next step.

4.      Develop a mutually agreed plan of action and follow through with it

Begin with the most important areas of conflict and build a strategy you can both get on board with from there. Focus on what you’re looking to achieve together, not the bumps in the road, and continue your discussions regularly to help prevent future misunderstandings. We’d also recommend taking the opportunity to praise some of your colleague's insights and ideas, this will set a precedent for a more fruitful working relationship.

Dealing with conflict in the workplace as an executive

Should the responsibility of managing employee conflict fall to your managers, leaders, or HR team? Perhaps, but it’s up to you as an executive to implement the proper infrastructure to help them do the best job possible. Depending on the size of your organization, it likely won’t be possible to have a hand in resolving every disagreement that appears, but if you lead by example, your actions will have a ripple effect on your team leaders and employees.

Here are some tips for encouraging healthy conflict resolution in your workplace:

  • Implement training programs

Everyone in your organization should be armed with practical conflict resolution skills and there are a host of great training programs that facilitate this. Conflict resolution training will help participants understand the different types of conflict and some resolution techniques, as well as aid in productive reflection.

  • Create a culture of accountability

To encourage responsible behavior and trust in the workplace, you’ll need to build an organization propped up by strong ethical principles. As mentioned above, this starts with you leading by example – meaning all your decisions should be grounded in ethics and accountability. Additionally, creating a platform for candid and anonymous employee feedback provides a valuable opportunity for you and your leaders to demonstrate this accountability.

  • Address implicit bias

Diversity of opinions, beliefs and ideas in the workplace is inherently going to lead to disagreements. However, this should always involve healthy discussion and mutual respect. After all, this diversity is what leads to positive change and growth. Conflict fueled by conscious or unconscious bias is unhealthy and dangerous. If you notice issues with implicit bias in your organization, implementing diversity and inclusion coaching is a great way to address this.

  • Try coaching

In addition to DEI support, EZRA offers world-class leadership coaching and executive coaching. The difference between coaching and training is that the former is focused on maximizing personal and professional potential, rather than just a transfer of knowledge from trainer to trainee. It’s a fantastic option to help yourself and your senior team realize the change you want to make and go after it in an intentional and fulfilling manner.

Having interpersonal conflict resolution skills as an executive is crucial. Being unable to navigate differences sets you up for a lack of respect and stunts development. A diverse pool of ideas and opinions in the workplace is really helpful for nurturing innovation, connection and collaboration and if all of this is delegated elsewhere, you, as an executive or CEO, cannot expect growth.

Explore More Insights