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How to manage conflict

Vanessa Judelman

President, Mosaic People Development

Lately, I have been using one of my favorite quotes A LOT.

The quote by Mark Twain is:

 “Where there are people, there is conflict”.

While this quote is definitely true, this week I have been wondering why there seems to be more conflict than usual in the workplace these days.

Have you noticed it too?

My conclusion is that people are struggling with all of the external stresses in their life related to COVID, lockdowns, vaccines etc. It’s all super intense and we are feeling tired.

As a leader, part of your job is to manage conflict. This is especially true if you want to build a high-performing team. Your team can never be really high-performing with conflict lingering in the wings. Unresolved conflict can become very distracting and saps a lot of energy and time for all involved.

This week, I spent 2-hours chatting with a couple of people in conflict. As a certified coach, I am trained to manage these interpersonal situations.

I would guess that as a leader, this is not an area that you received much formal education in managing. This is normal!

So, to help out, below I have listed my step-by-step process to effectively manage a conflict situation…or at least have an initial conversation to move the conflict closer to resolution.

Here the 5 key steps to a successful conflict mediation:

  1. Identify the root cause of the issue: There is always a reason why conflict exists. If you can’t identify the root cause, you will never be able to resolve the issue. Some common causes for conflict are; lack of alignment around roles and responsibilities, work-style clashes, poor communication and poor change management.
  2. Establish a common goal for both people. When people are working toward the same goal, they are more likely to put in the effort to resolve the issue. This step requires both parties to express what their needs are moving forward.
  3. Determine barriers to the common goal. This step is often missed and is critically important. I like to make a list of each barrier and then together brainstorm ways to overcome the barriers together.
  4. Agree on the best way to move forward. While it is unlikely that the conflict will be resolved in just one conversation, at least end your initial chat with some next steps. Each person should leave the conversation with an action item that they can implement to move toward resolution.
  5. Acknowledge each person’s contribution. Being in conflict is not fun. Nobody enjoys it. Coming to these conversations always takes courage and vulnerability. It’s important to thank both people for being willing participants in the conversation.

Conflict is normal. Our goal is to have healthy conflict on our teams. Healthy conflict means that the people on your team can disagree respectfully and are willing to listen to another person’s perspective.

However, if there is unhealthy conflict on your team, please deal with it immediately…before it escalates and poisons the culture on your team.

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