Social Menu

Workplace Wisdom Blog

A Leader’s Guide to Managing Workplace Conflict

In the last few posts on conflict, we’ve been assuming that the opponents in the conflict are working in good faith. But not all conflicts are straightforward disputes, that can be resolved merely with extra focus and new data. And some people may take the attitude that they absolutely cannot work together amicably.

Before you fall into the abyss of frustration and stress that comes with being a permanent umpire, try to work things out the old-fashioned way — through collaborative communication and a commitment to the higher ideals of the organization.

Work Step by Step

Here’s a roadmap so you can retrace your steps through the process of managing and resolving conflict, with links to the relevant prior posts:

Try not to feel discouraged if the process is slow, so dealing with people who can’t let go of conflict usually takes more time than you’d really want to devote to it, but it’s worth it if you can eliminate repeat refereeing assignments.

No More Benefit of the Doubt

Unfortunately, some people so desperately need to feel in control, or need attention so badly that they’re willing to act like the enemy. Some people like the excitement of fighting. These cases may require a greater application of raw authority.

If a participant is not on the level and is throwing up roadblocks — intentionally misleading or manipulating people or behaving passive-aggressively — you need a shift in tone and perspective.

Instead of being generous and saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m getting this from your point of view,” toughen up a bit. Say: “I’m really not getting your point.” In the face of self-serving, manipulative behavior, you have to be explicit about what is being said indirectly.

Rephrase their indirect or self-serving language to be as concretely as possible: “So you want Tony to give up A even though you’re not planning to give up a single bit of B. Am I understanding you correctly? I may not be, because it doesn’t make sense that that’s what you’d be saying since you already agreed to help find alternatives that both you and Tony could live with.”

Letting Go

It’s rare, but there are times when individuals are so convinced that they should have their way that you can’t broker a peace or convince them to behave better. And it can happen that two wonderful employees, for foolish or rational reasons, just can’t work things out together.

Be sure that you’re not inciting any of these undesirable situations. Then you can consider the opponents’ refusal or inability to collaborate successfully as negative performance information — the kind that has impact on their reviews, consideration for promotion, and ongoing employment.

It’s unfortunate that sometimes the only way to end a conflict completely is when one of the participants is no longer in a role that permits their participation.

Onward and upward,


Related Posts: