In an ideal workplace setting, conflicts would rarely arise. Even if they did, they could be resolved quickly and efficiently so as not to affect productivity or morale. Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world, and conflicts are a natural side effect of working with a diverse group of people. 

For many managers and supervisors, when conflict arises, they want to quash it as quickly as possible. However, conflict resolution is not always possible or even the best option. In some cases, it’s better to establish conflict management in the workplace by creating a conflict management system. 

What’s the difference between conflict management and conflict resolution? Let’s find out and see how conflict management can lead to a productive workplace. 

Conflict Management vs. Conflict Resolution

As the name suggests, conflict resolution aims to resolve the dispute so it doesn’t continue to be a problem. By comparison, conflict management is a process of developing systems and practices to identify and mediate conflicts as necessary within a specific setting. 

Basically, conflict resolution is a one-time event, while conflict management is ongoing. Overall, by creating a more open-minded and communication-focused environment, workers and managers can address conflicts that occur and work through them together. 

While the goal for both systems is to maintain a positive work environment, conflict management recognizes that disputes and arguments are a natural by-product of human interactions. So, management tries to facilitate an environment where conflicts aren’t avoided but mitigated and addressed on a case-by-case basis. 

How to Establish Conflict Management in the Workplace

First, it’s imperative to understand that conflict management is an ongoing process and will need fine-tuning and adjustment over the long term. However, with the right mindset and procedures in place, it’s easy to adapt to a changing environment to facilitate better resolution strategies. 

Here are some tips on how to create a conflict management system in the workplace. 

Create Open Lines of Communication

Most problems can be avoided by communicating openly and often. Miscommunication or misunderstandings can lead to conflict, particularly if both sides are not on the same page. 

In the workplace, there is a natural hierarchy between workers and managers, but that shouldn’t get in the way of open communication. Workers should feel free to discuss interpersonal issues with their supervisor, and a free exchange of ideas should be encouraged. 

Also, remember that conflict is a sign of communication, albeit a negative one. So, stifling conflicts can also make individuals feel like they can’t speak out, leading to bigger problems down the road. 

Overall, managers and supervisors should be proactive about communicating and soliciting feedback from employees. If necessary, you may want to establish one-on-one meetings or reviews to facilitate communication. This way, everyone can plan accordingly and bring up potential issues during these meetings instead of waiting until the problem gets too intense to ignore.

Be Proactive About Potential Conflicts

Rarely does a conflict erupt without prior warnings. Unfortunately, because most people choose to avoid confrontation, they tend to ignore these warning signs until it’s too late. 

So, a comprehensive conflict management system allows managers and mediators to identify these signs and be proactive about mitigating potential future conflicts. It’s also crucial to be as impartial as possible, as favoritism typically breeds more problems and can lead to more conflicts down the road. 

Proactive conflict resolution can be as simple as talking with individuals after an incident or when a supervisor notices a change in behavior. A quick conversation may be all it takes to alleviate the problem before the individual lashes out at a co-worker or customer. You may also try to facilitate stress relief exercises within the workplace to relieve tensions. Some examples of these exercises can include:

  • Massage Days – You can either hire a masseuse to schedule appointments with individual workers, or you can invest in a couple of massage chairs for ongoing relief.
  • Quiet, Stress-Free Spaces – If you have the space in the building, you can designate an area for stress relief. It could have soothing music, comfortable chairs, and even recliners so workers can take a quick nap on a break. In high-stress positions, having these spaces can help workers reset to take on the rest of the day.
  • Guided Meditation – While exercises like yoga or Tai Chi are not for everyone, some workers may appreciate having these sessions to help calm their minds and allow them to focus. Before implementing these sessions, make sure to gauge interest to verify if they’ll be worthwhile.

Set Realistic Expectations

Many modern workplaces want their employees to feel like they’re part of a family, meaning they want everyone to get along and be friendly and sociable. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, and that’s okay. 

Working with someone doesn’t mean you have to be close friends, even if you spend a lot of time together. So, the goal of conflict management shouldn’t be to establish (or re-establish) friendships. Instead, the objective should be a smooth and professional work environment. 

Adapt to Your Workforce

As a rule, younger employees are more willing to discuss issues with their supervisors or speak out if they feel overworked. Also, the types of conflicts you may encounter can shift as new people come into the workplace. For example, conflicts may arise based on negative language or “micro-aggressions,” not necessarily arguments or shouting matches.

When developing a conflict management system, it’s imperative to adapt to these changing mentalities, so you can address potential conflicts more efficiently. One part of this adaptation could be creating unique conflict resolution methods based on specific types of incidents. By creating a playbook for different types of conflicts, it’s easier to reach positive conclusions without going overboard.

For example, a conversation may be the best solution for conflicts arising from generational differences, while a professional mediator might be necessary for physical altercations. Having a plan of action for each situation eliminates any guesswork and allows your team to act faster and more comprehensively.

Establish Training for Supervisors and Managers

Conflict resolution training is a powerful tool for managers and supervisors, so they feel empowered to step in and resolve conflicts when they occur. Also, establishing a conflict training regimen ensures consistency across the board. Otherwise, one manager may take a light-touch approach while another is too heavy-handed.

It’s also important to maintain an ongoing training program. Just because someone was trained once in conflict management doesn’t mean they’re qualified to address each situation forever. In some cases, annual training may be ideal for top executives, or you may want to schedule sessions every other year.

You should also schedule training for new managers and supervisors as they move into management positions. Ideally, this training is part of the onboarding process so it’s never neglected or forgotten. Depending on the situation, you may want to schedule training sessions once a year so both new and existing managers can participate as needed.

Create a Long-Term Conflict Management Strategy

As we mentioned, conflict resolution relates to specific incidents, while conflict management is a comprehensive ongoing system of checks and balances. So, you need to develop a long-term strategy to ensure success both now and in the future. For example, it’s best to schedule assessments and evaluations of the program annually to ensure whether individual components need updating or not.

You should also determine how your conflict management strategy affects every part of the workplace, including:

  • Employee Handbook – This handbook is a great resource for employees, especially if they’re unsure of what to do in a specific situation. You should update the handbook with conflict resolution protocols, so workers know who to contact if something happens.
  • Onboarding and Training – Not all employees need to participate in conflict resolution training, but you should go over different systems and protocols during the onboarding process. Doing this also ensures consistency across departments so there are no discrepancies from one sector to the next.
  • Employee Termination – Firing employees is an inevitable part of running a business, so your conflict management strategy should address how to handle this situation. Conflicts can often arise as a direct result of an employee’s termination, so you have to plan accordingly to mitigate the potential fallout.
  • Legal Obligations – Managers and supervisors should always be aware of the potential legal ramifications of workplace conflict. Harassment and discrimination are serious charges that could lead to lawsuits and other costly scenarios. So, when developing a conflict management system, it’s imperative to evaluate each component from a legal standpoint to protect both the company and its employees.

Overall, those engaged in conflict may not like each other, but what matters is whether they can work together. Also, sometimes the best solution is to avoid putting specific people together so they don’t clash. There is no one correct answer – each situation is different. 

If you’re interested in getting comprehensive conflict management training, contact us today!