4 Tips for Managing Workplace Conflict

June 21, 2017

4 Tips for Managing Workplace Conflict

It’s estimated that 25 to 40 percent of management time (one to two days per week) is spent addressing employee conflict. According to one assessment, employees spend 2.8 hours per week involved in disagreement that disrupts the flow of work, with a cost of $359 billion paid hours per year.


The cost of improperly handling conflict in the workplace is clear, but the rewards of managing it properly are also obvious. Studies have shown that companies which use mediation and arbitration to resolve conflicts gain a 50 to 80 percent reduction in litigation costs. But wouldn’t it be better to head off potentially damaging conflicts before they even get to this stage? By managing conflicts at the personal interaction level, dealing with them through effective leadership, both the company and the productivity of the team working within that company, are effectively protected.


Remember, you can be right and still lose the argument.


Here are 4 strategies for managing conflicts and transforming them into stronger working relationships within your team:


1. Give the conflict 101 percent.

This sounds like a stamina-draining proposition until you understand its true meaning. In any conflict, there is most likely 1 percent of each side’s position where there is common ground. Find the 1 percent that you agree on and give 100 percent of your effort to build out a solution from there. This is the quickest way to start moving the conflict toward resolution.


2. Be aware of how your attitude is perceived.

How important is your opinion to you? If you find that you defend your opinion to the point of harming relationships, it’s time for a gut-check. Those who value their opinions more than people tend to stay in a state of conflict. Those who focus on the relationship over the issue tend to keep the lines of communication open.


Remember, you can be right and still lose the argument. How you go about confrontations can be just as important as why. Start by assessing your own motives and attitudes before you start confronting the motives and attitudes of others. During conversations, intentionally focus on communicating a caring posture through your body language, expressions, and verbal cues.


3. Recognize the validity of other viewpoints.

Your goal in a conflict should not be to argue the other person into a corner and force them to agree with your position. Even when disagreeing on certain points, you should acknowledge the perspectives of others and affirm their input where possible. Providing validity to certain areas of the other person’s viewpoint doesn’t weaken your own position. In fact, it may strengthen it.

On the points where you feel you are in the right, you should still provide an “escape hatch” for the other person in the conflict. Gently persuade, rather than demand, so the opposing individual can compromise without feeling like they’ve lost the argument.


4. Take a risk.

When faced with the potential for conflict, it’s human nature to want to avoid that conflict and the potential pain associated with it. But in every relationship, personal or professional, there is a potential risk of vulnerability associated with trusting and believing in the best of people. There is also the potential reward of building a much stronger relationship if you take that risk. 


If you’re avoiding the difficult conversations in your workplace, you’re throwing up roadblocks that your team must muddle through, especially when everyone on the team knows the conversation needs to happen. The key to restoring an energized, engaged, and productive team is to have the conversation in a way that builds bridges and moves the group forward in achieving the higher goals within the company.

The Authors: 

Linda McGuigan is the president of corporate leadership solutions at The John Maxwell Company, which offers corporate leaders the tools required to achieve unprecedented success. With experience in senior executive management roles at companies ranging from Fortune 500 to startups, Linda has made a career out of authentic leadership and mobilizing others through an unbridled passion for people development.