TACKLING CONFLICT – Have a happier office in the New Year


The start of a New Year is often a time for making plans to improve; coming up with ideas for doing things better; a time to make resolutions to develop and progress.

We decided to start with some reflection first to better identify what actually needed to improve, become better or develop.  What we discovered, looking back over the last year, is that the majority of the support we provided to our clients involved supporting them to manage conflict. So, we thought that we would dedicate this page to tips on the successful management of conflict.

If you can manage conflict skilfully the rewards are excellent, you can:

  • Gain cooperation from team members
  • Improve performance and productivity
  • Reduce stress and preserve integrity
  • Solve problems as quickly as possible
  • Improve relationships and teamwork
  • Enhance creativity
  • Increase staff morale

If you believe that these are not very important, there is no need to read on.

Conflict can be positive, it can strengthen relationships and give you a chance to learn the views of others. You won’t be surprised to learn that COMMUNICATION is the key and, if you do nothing else this year, make sure you pay attention to improving your communication skills.

For example, you have a couple of employees arguing over the desk by the window or maybe you have an employee who is bringing a personal issue to work and driving the team crazy. Here are some tips to use if your employees cannot resolve their differences.

Acknowledge that a difficult situation exists. Honesty and clear communication play an important role in the resolution process. Make sure you understand what’s happening and be open about the problem.

Let individuals express their feelings. Some feelings of anger and/or hurt usually accompany conflict situations. Before any kind of problem-solving can take place, these emotions should be expressed and acknowledged.

Define the problem. What is the stated problem? What is the negative impact on the work or relationships? Are differing personality styles part of the problem? Meet with employees separately at first and question them about the situation.

Determine underlying needs. The goal of conflict resolution is not to decide which person is right or wrong; the goal is to reach a solution that everyone can live with. Looking first for needs, rather than solutions, is a powerful tool for generating favourable options. To discover needs, find out why people want the solutions they initially proposed. Once you understand the advantages their solutions have for them, you can understand their needs.

Find common areas of agreement, no matter how small:

  • Agree on the problem
  • Agree on the procedure to follow
  • Agree on worst fears
  • Agree on some small change to give an experience of success

Find solutions to satisfy needs:

  • Problem-solve by generating multiple alternatives
  • Determine which actions will be taken
  • Make sure involved parties buy into actions. (Total silence may be a sign of passive resistance.) Be sure you get real agreement from everyone.

Determine the follow-up you will take to monitor actions. You may want to schedule a follow-up meeting in a couple of weeks to determine how everyone is doing.

Determine what you’ll do if the conflict goes unresolved. If the conflict is causing a disruption in the department and it remains unresolved, you may need to explore other avenues. An outside facilitator such as a mediator may be able to offer other insights on solving the problem.   Coaching may help.

Conflict that is unresolved will escalate and cause disruption to those not initially involved. It will swallow up people’s time in trying to deal with performance issues.  Not managing conflict is not an option.

One of the main reasons we believe that people avoid managing conflict is they don’t want to deal with emotions, especially anger.

When you meet with someone who is angry, you can effective listening to help defuse this anger. Nevertheless, when anger is directed at you, it is much more difficult to respond definitively, because your own emotions are usually involved.

  • To effectively defuse anger, understand and keep in mind the needs of the angry person:
  • To vent – an angry person needs to let off steam and release the anger that may have been brewing for a long time – use your communication skills and allow the person to do this.
  • To get the listener’s attention – an angry person wants to know that you are paying attention – use your body language to show this.
  • To be heard – an angry person wants someone to listen to his/her point of view – acknowledge the feelings you hear so that the person knows you appreciate how angry he/she is.
  • To be understood – an angry person wants someone to appreciate how he/she feels – try to empathize with his/her experience so that he/she feels you understand the situation, and acknowledge his/her right to feel the way he/she does.

When you’re listening to an angry person, it helps to be attentive and patient. Keeping in mind that they will become less angry as you let them express themselves.  Be sincere and genuine using honesty in your communication. Be calm. Try to remove your own emotions from the discussion. An angry person may say things in the heat of the moment, but you do not have to react in the same way.

Practice the above to tackle conflict as soon as possible and have a happier new year.

words | Sylvia Kenna