Effectively Addressing Conflict in the Workplace Essay

Leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. If you cannot address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion then you should not be in a leadership role. While you can try and avoid conflict, which is a bad idea, you cannot escape conflict because conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and fair resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader, but the inability to do so may be your downfall.

Many savvy business professionals have self-destructed their careers because they refused to engage in conflict. Denying that any conflicts exist and hoping that it will pass you by is not the most effective methodology for problem solving. Conflict rarely resolves itself; in fact, conflict normally escalates if not dealt with proactively and properly. It is not at all uncommon to see what might not have been an issue manifest itself into a big problem if not resolved early on. Developing effective conflict resolution skill sets are an essential component of building a sustainable business model.

Unresolved conflict often results in a loss of productivity, stifles creativity, and creates barriers to cooperation. Perhaps most importantly for leaders, the ability to properly resolve conflict equals good employee retention. Leaders who don’t deal with conflict will eventually watch their good talent walk out the door in search of a healthier and safer work environment. Poor leadership always leads to conflicts, but even the best leaders can’t prevent conflicts from occurring.

While conflict is a normal part of any social and organizational setting, the challenge of conflict lies in how one chooses to deal with it. Concealed, avoided or otherwise ignored, conflict will likely fester only to grow into resentment, create withdrawal or cause fighting within an organization. So, what creates conflict in the workplace? Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, or just someone having a bad day.

Some may think that almost anything can create conflict, but actually the root of most conflict stems from either poor communication or the inability to control one’s emotions. It is essential for organizational health and performance that conflict be accepted and addressed through effective conflict resolution processes. While having a conflict resolution structure is important, effective utilization of conflict resolution processes is ultimately dependant upon the ability of all parties to understand the benefits of conflict resolution, and perhaps more importantly, their desire to resolve the matter.

The following tips will help to more effectively handle conflicts in the workplace: * Define Acceptable Behavior: Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior, instead of just assuming what is or is not acceptable, is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Creating a framework for decision-making, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help avoid conflicts.

Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them and a well-articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help avoid conflicts. * Take Conflict Head-on: Since you can’t always prevent conflicts, the secret to conflict resolution is in conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict and proactively intervening in a fair and decisive fashion you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising.

If a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly. * Understanding Other’s Motives: Understanding your co-workers thought of “what’s in it for me” is very important. It is essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in on the situation. The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict. The Importance Factor: Choose your battles wisely and don’t engage in conflict when it is not necessary. However, if the issue is important enough to create a conflict then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional gaps. * View Conflict as Opportunity: This is one of the most important things that many leaders forget about.

Hidden within almost every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. Conflict management isn’t about returning everything to the status quo, it’s about using conflict to improve your people and your organization. 0 When a decision needs to be made quickly, most leaders tend to take on an autocratic leadership style, but there is better, more effective alternative.

Since having an autocratic leadership style can lead to conflict by causing tension among your employees, and poor communication, instead take time to gather input from subordinates and take their opinions into serious consideration when making decisions. Using a participative leadership style can foster an environment of cooperation and collaboration that typically enables employees to function effectively as a team. When a conflict involves a controversial or unpopular decision, don’t ignore it, which many leaders tend to do.

An effective leader will also know that delegating conflict resolution to a third party, such as a mediator, can be effective in a situation where emotions remain high even after discussions and other methods used to previously help resolve the conflict. Resolution can normally be found with conflicts where there is a sincere desire to do so. An effective leader needs to quickly diagnose any issues that may hinder their team’s productivity, take prompt action to resolve disagreements, and help team members develop the skills necessary to resolve conflicts on their, without the supervision of management.

Leaders need to help team members overcome interpersonal conflicts, and promote acceptance of other cultures and experiences in the workplace.


Duggan, Tara. “Leadership vs. Conflict Resolution”. Demand Media. Accessed 11 April, 2012. <http://smallbusiness. chron. com/leadership-vs-conflict-resolution-10581. html> Myatt, Mike. “Leadership and Conflict”. Accessed 11 April, 2012. <http://www. n2growth. com/blog/conflict-resolution/>