What is conflict management in the workplace?

what is conflict management

Conflict is an inevitable part of life and the workplace is no exception. Every person has their values, needs, and habits, which can lead to misunderstandings, irritations, and even conflicts.

But how we handle those conflicts can make all the difference.  This article dives into the concept of – what conflict management is and how it can be used to transform potentially disruptive situations into opportunities for growth and progress. 

You will also learn about its styles and the essential skills you need to manage conflicts in your workplace effectively.

What is conflict management?

Conflict management is the process of resolving conflicts proactively to avoid damaging relationships. The main goal is for both sides of the conflict to work together and overcome the challenges in a way that makes them feel heard and understood.

Everyone wants to show how valuable they are to the company they work for. Sometimes, this leads to disputes with other team members.

As a manager, you need to understand these conflicts and know how to resolve them sensibly, fairly, and efficiently. You can do so by avoiding poor communication between your team members. You can also decrease workplace tension to improve your team’s productivity and keep the morale of employees high.

Why is conflict management important?

“The more we run from conflict, the more it masters us; the more we try to avoid it, the more it controls us; the less we fear conflict, the less it confuses us; the less we deny our differences, the less they divide us.” – David Augsburger

Unmanaged conflict within a team can have various negative effects, such as low morale, loss of employees, and missed deadlines.

American businesses lose $359 billion every year due to unresolved conflicts.

Further, ignoring a difficult conversation can cost an organization $7,500 and more than seven workdays.

If left unchecked, conflicts can escalate, leading to bad decisions and serious arguments. This can ultimately result in a breakdown of teamwork and stalled projects, high absenteeism, a toxic work culture, and increased staff turnover.

As Thomas Isgar said, “Conflict can destroy a team that hasn’t spent time learning to deal with it.”

This is where conflict management comes in. It helps you keep your workplace productive and create a positive work culture.

As a manager, you need to foster healthy conflict resolution and create a safe, productive work environment for employees.

Effective conflict resolution leads to better communication, stronger team bonds, and innovative solutions.

Foster a collaborative work environment with these best team communication tools for your business.

What causes conflicts in the workplace? 

Conflicts are often based on fears, assumptions, and (mis)communication and come from your most primal impulses.

According to Eugene Dilan, “We all come to our workspaces with the experiences that have shaped us. And so, to some degree, that’s fundamentally one of the things that begins to cause conflict.

Those deeper insecurities or core needs are often the root cause of conflicts. However, here are some common examples that cause conflicts in the workplace:

  • Your two team members have different points of view or opinions. They both want their perspectives to prevail. ‍
  • Your team members have different priorities. What’s urgent for your one team member may not be urgent for another one.
  • ‍There is a lack of clarity among your team members. 
  • Your team members think you are partial. You always favor one of them, and that’s why that one gets stretch tasks or assignments.  ‍
  • There are political and social disagreements among team members. 

Conflict exists in the workplace in different ways. This can be everything from disagreements over budget allocation to pay discrimination lawsuits and everything in between. 

“When people have different points of view that could create conflict, that’s a good thing because those conversations [to resolve it] are how you go about solving the problems that can advance an organization,” – Shaara Roman.

While it can be natural if you want to avoid workplace conflict, effective conflict resolution can bring about better results than having no conflict at all.

Conflict management strategies for managers

“A good manager doesn’t try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people. If you’re the boss and your people fight you openly when they think that you are wrong–that’s healthy.” – Robert Townsend

Conflict management strategies make it easy to manage conflicts and let you focus on personal and professional development.

Here are seven strategies to help you resolve a dispute and create a healthy relationship among your team members:

Conflict management strategies for managers
Conflict management strategies for managers

1. Identify the root cause of conflict

We recently ran a poll on LinkedIn to learn about the best approach for resolving conflicts. 

Guess what we found? 

A whopping 63% prefer to find out the cause of conflict first.

These numbers make it clear! It is essential to identify the root cause of the issue.

Defining the cause of the conflict will help you understand how the problem grew in the first place. Plus, you will be able to get both team members to agree on what the disagreement is.

To do so, you need to discuss the needs that are not being met on both sides of the issue. And make sure you obtain as much information as possible from both sides.

Continue asking questions until you are confident that all the conflicting team members understand the issue.

2. Find a safe and private place to talk

Managers often wonder and ask, “What is an approach to solving problems peacefully?”

To have a productive conversation, you need to find an environment that is safe for you and your team members to talk to. Such a place helps you take the necessary risks for honest communication regarding the issues at hand. 

So, before trying to resolve any conflict, find a safe and private place to talk. Do not choose the office of either team member or a location near them. While at this place, make sure that each member gets enough time to express their views regarding the matter.

3. Listen actively and let everyone express their thoughts

“When people respond too quickly, they often respond to the wrong issue. Listening helps us focus on the heart of the conflict. When we listen, understand, and respect each other’s ideas, we can then find a solution in which both of us are winners.” – Dr. Gary Chapman

After getting both conflicted team members to meet in a secure and private place, let each of them have the opportunity to express their views and perceptions regarding the problem.

Give each member equal time to air out their thoughts and concerns without favoring the other. Embrace a positive and assertive approach while in the meeting.

If necessary, you can set ground rules. This will encourage both team members to communicate their thoughts openly and honestly, comprehend the causes of the conflict, and identify solutions.

4. Analyze the situation

After listening to the concerns of conflicted team members, take your time and investigate the case. Do not prejudge or come up with a final verdict based on what you already know.

You need to dig deeper and learn more about the happenings, involved team members, the issues, and how other members feel. You can have an individual and confident conversation with those involved and listen keenly to ensure you comprehend their viewpoints.

You can do so by summarizing their statements and replicating them back to them. Also, try to find any underlying conflict sources that may not be evident or noticeable at first.

5. Encourage collaboration and mediation

If there is a conflict between team members, one way to solve it is by promoting collaboration and mediation. Encourage your team members to find common ground and work together towards a solution that works for both of them.

As a manager, you need to act as a neutral mediator in conflict resolution meetings and guide the conversation between conflicted sides. You should emphasize the importance of respectful communication and encourage team members to listen to each other’s concerns actively.

By facilitating a collaborative approach, you can empower your team members to take ownership of the resolution process and foster a sense of shared responsibility.

6. Promote an environment of empathy

Empathy plays a pivotal role in conflict management. As a manager, it’s important to have empathy when dealing with conflicts between team members.

With your emotional intelligence, you can create an environment where your team members can express their emotions freely. It lets you understand the emotions and perspectives of others, which helps you approach conflicts with care.

When you handle conflicts with sensitivity, it can help reduce tensions and find mutually agreeable solutions. You should guide your teammates in recognizing and managing their own emotions. This fosters self-awareness and emotional regulation, which makes it easier to resolve conflicts positively and constructively.

7. Find a win-win solution

“The Law of Win/Win says, ‘Let’s not do it your way or my way; let’s do it the best way’.” – Greg Anderson

When conflicts arise in the workplace, it’s essential to find a solution that benefits everyone involved, not just a single team member.

Instead of approaching a conflict with a competitive mindset of winning or losing, it’s better to work together as a team to come up with a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

As a manager, you can encourage your team members to think creatively and find solutions that address everyone’s interests. By focusing on common goals, you can lead your team to find solutions that satisfy everyone and promote a positive work environment.

8. Use a project management tool 

While not dealing with direct conflict resolution, a project management tool like ProofHub with its robust features, can be a valuable asset for teams and managers. It offers a centralized platform that ensures everyone has access to the same information, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and conflicts.

These tools provide real-time communication features like real-time chat, discussion, and @comments, allowing you and your team members to stay in touch and resolve task-related issues quickly before they escalate into bigger problems.

With ProofHub, you and your team members can focus on work and achieve better results without wasting time on unnecessary conflicts.

Encourage collaboration and mediation
Keep your team members in the loop on important topics with discussions

Conflict management examples

Here are a few examples of conflicts that can occur in a workplace and how you can prevent them with ProofHub:

Scenario 1: Task-based conflicts

Imagine your team is working on a project, and multiple tasks need to be completed. However, your team members are not clear about what they need to do or when, or you forget to assign some tasks. This can lead to confusion and conflicts among your team members, especially if two or more people are working on the same task.

How can you prevent this conflict with ProofHub?

ProofHub can help you prevent such conflicts by providing a transparent and centralized platform for task management.

With ProofHub, you can create and assign tasks to specific individuals, set deadlines, and track their progress. This ensures everyone knows what they are responsible for and can focus on their tasks without interfering with others. This will minimize task-based conflicts, and your team members can work together more smoothly.

Visualize the status of your work by dragging and dropping tasks with ProofHub’s Kanban board
Visualize the status of your work by dragging and dropping tasks with ProofHub’s Kanban board

Scenario 2: Communication breakdown conflicts

Another cause of conflict in the workplace is poor communication among team members. When your team members are not clear about their roles and responsibilities, misunderstandings can arise which can lead to conflicts.

Suppose you assign a task to a team member but you didn’t explain your expectations clearly. They complete the task in a different way than you intended, leading to frustration and conflict.

How can you prevent this conflict with ProofHub?

ProofHub brings your team members, all your project discussions, and files together in one place. You can communicate with your team members in real time while working on your tasks. This will reduce confusion and you can make sure that everyone on the team is on the same page.

Send files, messages, and images directly to your team members with ProofHub’s in-built chat
Send files, messages, and images directly to your team members with ProofHub’s in-built chat

Keep your teams productive and organized with these top 18 team management software for 2024.

Additional example: Use conflicts for positive outcomes

Conflict is often seen as a bad thing, but it can help you come up with better solutions to problems. When your team members have different ideas, it can lead to healthy debates and discussions. This way, you can come up with new and innovative ideas that you may not have thought of before.

Encouraging healthy conflict can also help your team members identify their respective strengths and weaknesses. They can work together more effectively to find solutions that are better and quicker.

Ultimately, this leads to better outcomes, a stronger team, and improved collaboration among your team members.

Conflict management styles

Dr. Kenneth W. Thomas and Dr. Ralph H. Kilmann developed a model – The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model. It outlines five styles for handling conflicts. Here are those five conflict management styles based on the personality type you are dealing with:

Conflict management styles
Conflict management styles

1. Accommodating

Sometimes, in a conflict, you decide to let the other person have their way instead of fighting back. This is called an “accommodating style”. You can choose this approach when the issue is not that important to you but is very important to the other person.

It is a good idea to use this style if you want to avoid more arguments at work or if you know that you are wrong. You can also use this style if you try to understand the other person’s feelings and situation.

For example, if a customer asks for a refund, even though they do not have a warranty. You choose to give them a refund because you want to keep them happy and the item is not very expensive.

2. Avoiding

When dealing with conflicts, sometimes it’s better to avoid them altogether. This approach is known as the avoiding conflict management style.

You can use this method if you think the issue is not important or if you don’t have the time to deal with it. It can also be helpful if you are unsure how to respond or if you haven’t formed an opinion yet.

An example of this type of conflict management is when your colleagues are arguing for a comfortable dress code. But you are too busy working on an end-of-year financial submission, you decide to avoid getting involved in the argument.

3. Compromising

When you find yourself in a situation where finding a solution is more important than winning an argument, you can use the “compromising style” of conflict management. This style helps you to find a middle ground that works for everyone involved.

For example, you are working on an important project you need to complete on time. You can distribute the duties fairly among the team members by considering every aspect so that you can meet the deadline successfully.

4. Collaborating

When you have a conflict with someone, you can find a solution that makes everyone happy instead of just compromising. This is called the collaborating conflict management style.

It’s a good approach when the relationship between the people involved is really important.

For example, if shareholders have a conflict, they can collaborate to find a solution that keeps their relationship strong.

5. Competing

There is a conflict management style where you stick to your argument and don’t accept the other person’s argument until you get what you want.

This style is useful when you need to make a quick decision, resolve a long-term conflict, or stand up for your rights or the rights of others.

For example, a customer is bothering one of the employees. In this case, you should not agree with the customer’s insensitive comments and reject their argument.

Before you choose the type of conflict management style, consider asking yourself these questions:

  1. How important is the issue and the person involved?

Think about how much you care about the problem and the person you’re having a conflict with. This will help you choose the best way to handle the situation.

For example, if the issue isn’t very important and the person is a client, it might be best to give in

  1. Do you know what the consequences are?

No matter what you decide, there will be consequences. It’s essential to think about what these might be so you can make the best choice.

For example, if standing up for yourself hurts an important relationship, you can let it go.

  1. Do you have the time and energy to deal with the argument?

When you’re busy, it’s necessary to prioritize. If the issue is small and you have other important things to do, it might be better to let it go.

But if it’s a matter of what’s right or wrong, you need to spend your time and energy finding a solution that makes things better for everyone.

Conflict management skills for managers

Possessing the right skills is key to effective conflict management in the workplace. Here are the most important skills you will need to resolve conflicts in the workplace:

  • Communication: You need to speak politely but still be convincing in your argument.
  • Discussion: Be open to discussing matters instead of only sharing your opinion with those who agree with you.
  • Listening: You can actively listen to the other person without jumping to conclusions or making assumptions.
  • Impartiality: The ability to separate the conflict from the person to get to a solution.
  • Patience: Try to be patient and not be provoked into unnecessary conflicts.
  • Mediation: You need the skill to mediate and facilitate the process of finding a solution.
  • Assertiveness: You should stick to your opinion and stand up for your rights or those of others.
  • Emotional intelligence: Control your emotions to prevent them from getting the best of you during an argument.
  • Empathy: Try to put yourself in the other person’s place to experience what the other person is feeling.
  • Avoiding criticism: You need to present your argument without criticizing the other person who is opposing you.
  • Responsibility: Take responsibility for your actions when it is due.
  • Stress management: You should manage your stress properly so as not to make the situation worse.
  • Nonverbal communication: Be respectful with your non-verbal communication by not rolling your eyes or mimicking your opponent.
  • Problem-solving: The ability to solve problems efficiently.
  • Perception: Try to be perceptive in a conflict to find a solution.
  • Decision-making: You should be able to make decisions about whether to pursue the conflict or not.

The final thoughts

Suppose you’re not adept at conflict management. In that case, you’ll likely face dire consequences: a toxic work culture, low productivity, increased turnover rate, and a demoralized team. 

On the other hand, effective conflict management can bring your team members closer than before, create a positive work culture, and improve productivity in your workplace.

Using a powerful yet easy-to-use project management and team collaboration tool like ProofHub can help you prevent conflicts at your workplace.

ProofHub provides a centralized platform that facilitates effective communication and team collaboration. It allows you and your team members to share files, discuss project progress, and assign tasks.

Plus, ProofHub allows you to track changes in project progress and assign team members to specific tasks. This effectively prevents project conflicts, resulting in a more productive and efficient team.

Don’t just take my word for it! Prevent conflicts and improve productivity at your workplace. Give ProofHub a try today!

Related articles:


Which scenario would require conflict management rather than conflict resolution?

You should use conflict management rather than conflict resolution in a scenario involving chronic issues such as personality clashes or differing work styles between team members.

Which statement best describes the difference between conflict resolution and conflict management?

Conflict resolution focuses on finding a solution to a specific issue, aiming to end the conflict entirely. On the other hand, conflict management focuses on creating an ongoing process to address and minimize the negative impacts of recurring disagreements.

What is the potential downside of overusing the compromising style of conflict management?

While compromise finds a middle ground, overuse can create short-term fixes that neglect root causes. This leads to recurring conflicts and leaves underlying issues unaddressed.

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