5 Tips to Improve Your Conflict Management Skills and Boost Employee Engagement

Put Your Battle Axes Down, Resolve (and Prevent) Conflict in the Workplace

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional,” writes Max Lucado. With tensions rising in the workplace, and world, it seems we’ve all fallen into battle mode. There are many reactions to this – everything from turtling-up, hiding in a shell, to becoming the corporate version of an officious mother-in-law, meddling in everything, stirring things up, neither of which are effective at work (or in life).

Conflict management is a critical skill for managers, and teams, to embrace. Working in a high-tension place can kill employee engagement and satisfaction. Conflict can come from various arenas: data-based, opinion, power, and unnecessary, all of which take a toll on employee engagement and productivity.

Here are 5 tips to improve your conflict management skills.

1. Conflict isn’t a zero-sum game. At work, it’s inevitable that people are going to butt heads. That said, conflict can’t be viewed as an all-or-nothing situation. As a manager, you need to develop cooperative relationships, focus on common-ground issues of both sides, and find wins on both sides. When your team starts to see conflict as a place to come together and improve, as a team, individuals will be more willing to cede and give in on points. If you can’t agree on a solution, agree on a way to move forward (get more information, approach senior management or HR, bring in an expert).

2. Keep emotions down. Remember that conflict at the workplace isn’t, generally, personal. Discuss the issue, not the person or people involved. Keep communication focused on the problem. Ask each person to explain their thinking, their position. Restate in your own words and have them do the same for other team members. You might be surprised to see you’re not as far apart on the issue as you originally imagined.

3. What are your triggers? We’re human. There are people, or situations, that just set us off. Write down the last 10 – 20 times you handled conflict poorly. Look for patterns and themes (or people). Now, what can you do to prepare for, or avoid, this same trigger trap? Self-knowledge is critical for conflict management.

4. Are you the problem? How do you react when you don’t agree with something? What is your body language, tone of voice? What language do you use? Do you interrupt, jump in to offer “solutions”, and challenge others’ ideas? Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that we can be a source of unnecessary conflict, just by the way we interact with others. Be aware. Ask someone you trust to discuss these issues with you. Try to be as objective as possible.

5. Communicate. 98% of the world problems could be resolved with effective communication. (No, this is not a real statistic and is definitely hyperbole, but it’s probably not too far off the mark, either.) Communication isn’t passive. Communication doesn’t mean talking. The best communication begins with listening. Actively listening. Nod. Ask open-ended questions. Restate the other person’s position. Don’t automatically reject a rigid position, instead ask why. And, not responding is also a response, especially to attacks and outrageous requests.

Conflict is inevitable. How we approach conflict and set a standard of dealing with conflict at the workplace can make an incredible difference in employee engagement and performance. Teaching a team to deal with conflict has to start with management embracing key conflict management skills. These skillsets arm a manager or senior leader with the right tools to go into battle and have everyone come out winning.

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