Every workplace experiences conflict, but not every workplace handles conflict well. Conflict management is often what separates successful organizations from dysfunctional ones.
What Is Conflict Management?
Conflict management is the practice of identifying and addressing disagreements and incompatibilities in the workplace in a fair and efficient manner.
Why Do Workplace Conflicts Arise?
Workplace conflicts are normal, even in a healthy workplace. Conflicts often arise from differences (whether perceived or real) in goals, needs, and opinions; unclear responsibilities; and competition over resources like time, equipment, materials, and money. Because workplace conflicts are common, it’s important that every organization has people who are skilled in conflict management.
How Can Workplace Conflicts Be Managed?
In order for a conflict to be managed, you have to be aware of the conflict, understand it, address it, and find a solution. Once you know a conflict exists, follow these five steps to resolve it.
- Clarify the source of the conflict. Determine who is involved in the conflict and what the issue is.
- Have an open conversation. Bring the parties involved in the conflict together in a neutral, private place (not at one of the employees’)
- Encourage each employee to express their views respectfully. Actively listen and ask questions to ensure you understand what is being said.
- Determine potential solutions to the conflict. If you’re having difficulty finding possible resolutions, you can research options or get ideas from your supervisor or a neutral third party. Share the ideas you develop with the team members involved in the conflict. Most likely, everyone involved will need to compromise to resolve the conflict.
- Implement the solution. Agree on what the best solution is. Determine what each party’s responsibilities are in implementing the solution. Ensure that everyone understands their role in resolving the conflict.
- Evaluate and innovate. Continue to monitor the situation and see how well the solution works. You may need to make adjustments to the plan or remind team members of their responsibilities. Determine how a similar conflict might be prevented in the future. And evaluate your own role in managing conflict. There’s always room for improvement!
How Can Conflict Management Translate Into Positive Business Results?
Workplace conflicts can be productive! When team members feel heard and respected while exchanging conflicting ideas, they have the opportunity to learn from each other and achieve a resolution. Effective conflict management can yield these powerful positive business results:
- Increased productivity. The more time employees spend disagreeing with one another, the less time they spend working. When a conflict is resolved, employees can focus on work.
- Improved retention. Employees who feel like their concerns aren’t heard are likely to leave their jobs. Gallup estimates that voluntary employee turnover costs businesses $1 trillion a year. More than half of those departing employees said that in the prior three months, no one in their organization had spoken to them about their job satisfaction or their career trajectory.1 Having conversations with your employees and showing that you take action to resolve conflicts can help with retention.
- Better working relationships. Effective conflict resolution gives team members a positive outlook on their ability to work together. It can also help to increase respect among team members.
- Better communication. The process of conflict resolution requires key communication skills: Employees must articulate their feelings and listen to one another respectfully. Using these skills to resolve conflicts demonstrates the importance of continued good communication.
- Reduced stress. It’s stressful to experience conflict! Team members having conflict with one another are tense, and that tension can spread to the rest of the team and even throughout the organization. Resolving the conflict removes that source of stress.
How Can I Improve My Conflict Management Skills?
While conflict in the workplace is common, conflict management training in the workplace is fairly uncommon. Since conflict management is an important skill for leaders, you may want to encourage your workplace to offer training in this area or to provide tuition reimbursement for professional development courses. You might even want to enhance your career by investing in training and development yourself. Courses in workplace communication, conflict management, and leadership skills can help you more effectively resolve conflict.
Walden University’s School of Lifelong Learning offers a variety of individual courses online that can help you improve your conflict management skills and and turn your team’s conflict into positive business results. In the Harnessing the Creative Power of Conflict learning path, explore three micro-courses for strategies on making conflict a force for positive change in your workplace. The micro-course The Nature of Conflict in the Workplace will help you discover sources and types of conflict and learn how conflict can be functional. Realizing the Value of Workplace Conflict is a micro-course that can teach you to channel conflict into creative power. Leadership Skills for Constructive Conflict is a two-hour micro-course that can help you apply leadership tactics to manage workplace conflict.
For healthcare-specific individual online courses in conflict management, Walden University’s School of Lifelong Learning offers Conflict Management in Healthcare, a 3-hour micro-course for healthcare practitioners covering healthcare-specific strategies in addressing and managing conflict. In addition, if you are a healthcare leader managing conflict within your organization, you may be interested in the Coaching and Mentoring in Healthcare and Effective Communication in Healthcare micro-courses offered. All three of these micro-courses have an estimated 3-hour workload and each carry 3 ANCC Contact Hours for the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation (ANCC).
Workplace conflict is natural. The ability to resolve conflicts is an important leadership skill. Prepare for the next step in your career—and the next conflict at work—with online business courses and online certificate programs through Walden’s School of Lifelong Learning.