Conflict Management Skills: Keeping Your Cool at Work

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Conflict is something that’s nearly inevitable, and can sometimes even be healthy (within moderation, of course). Two people can’t always agree on everything, and it’s important to have mature conversations about how we’re feeling in both professional and personal relationships.


Conflict isn’t something that should be avoided, but rather something that should be approached in a positive and respectful way. Here are some conflict management skills to help keep your cool no matter what comes your way, especially in your workplace, where getting along with others is essential.



What Causes Conflict?

Conflict can be caused from endless reasons, but generally is started by people disagreeing over things that are important to them — such as their values, beliefs, and ideas.


While they can often start off as very mundane issues, when there is emotional connection involved, people can take their opinions very seriously. We all have a need to feel secure as well as respected, and when we feel that this has not been given to us, we can naturally get very defensive.



What is Conflict Management?

Conflict management is what we need to do in order to address and resolve the conflict at hand. It means dealing with the conflict in a healthy manner, rather than avoiding the situation or continuing to argue with the other person or group.


Conflict management can be achieved by learning how to apply a wide variety of conflict management skills.



What Are Conflict Management Skills?

When it comes to conflict, we should aim to resolve it in a healthy way, rather than trying to avoid it.


There are a wide variety of types, styles, and methods of using conflict management skills. What’s most important is that you learn how and when to use each one to effectively resolve your conflicts.



Man and women sitting down calmly dealing with conflict in mature way by having conversation instead of fighting
Photo by Jopwell from Pexels



The Importance Of Conflict Management Skills In The Workforce

The workforce is unfortunately one of the most common places where conflict is found. With so many different kinds of employees coming from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, it’s nearly inevitable that they won’t see eye to eye on everything.


The workforce can also be a highly competitive environment where everyone is trying to prove themselves to be the best, especially with different job titles and positions — which can, in turn, cause conflict. So how do you handle conflict?


Conflict management skills are especially important in the workforce, because in order for a company to function successfully, its team members need to work together and come to mutual agreements on most things that go on. It’s also crucial that employees feel as though they are part of a positive and safe work environment where they can express their opinions openly and feel respected. Without conflict management skills, a workplace can be highly problematic.



Conflict Management Skills: What Are Some Different Types?

How do you handle conflict? There are many different types of conflict management skills. Regardless of how you decide to approach your specific situation, these main aspects of conflict management should guide you through your conflict resolution.



Communication Skills – Be Open


Communication is key! They don’t just say that for nothing — being open and communicative can really be a complete game changer. If you don’t express how you’re feeling, how can anyone else really know what’s going on and understand? It’s the first step to approaching your conflict.



Emotional Awareness


It’s easy to get caught up in our emotions. But if you don’t know how or why you’re feeling a certain way, then how can the other person understand? This also goes both ways. By being in touch with your feelings, you can prevent the situation from escalating, and you can address what’s truly triggering these emotions. Maybe there is something deeper than what you first saw on the surface.



Empathy For Others


When in conflict, it’s crucial to have empathy for those around you. While you might be incredibly frustrated and passionate about your opinion, stop to think about how the other person is feeling. Perhaps this situation is just as difficult for them, maybe even more. Consider what they may be going through, and what kinds of experiences they’ve been through.



Problem Solving: Thinking Outside The Box


When it comes to conflict management, our ultimate goal is to solve the problem. But if we are stuck in our ways, we aren’t going to get anywhere. It’s important to think outside the box, and consider all of your options. The two of you might have to meet in the middle and come to a fair compromise, allowing you to both have your voice heard and leave the situation happy. It’s never black or white when it comes to resolving conflicts.


Quick Stress Relief


We tend to get heated and emotional, sometimes even withdrawn or frozen when dealing with a stressful conflict. Being able to deal with your stress in the moment is crucial for staying in control and addressing the conflict at hand. Even if you haven’t completely solved the problem right away, it’s important to take a few deep breaths and stop yourself before things get out of hand.



What Are Types Of Interpersonal Conflict?

In a work situation, for example, interpersonal conflict would be when either an individual or a group attempts to stop someone from attaining their goals.


Before addressing the conflict, it can be helpful to understand what type of conflict is going on and what is conflict overall. Here are the three main types of conflict:



1. Personal Conflict


Personal conflicts — also known as relational conflicts — tend to be about self-image or about key aspects of a relationship, such as a lack of respect or loyalty.


This type of conflict would be common in romantic relationships, where one (or both) of the partners does not feel as though they are given the respect that they deserve and that their opinion is heard.



2. Instrumental Conflicts


Instrumental conflicts are more about goals and structures in an organization, and tend to be more tangible.


An example of an instrumental conflict would be if you are a real optimist, always looking on the bright side, while your co-worker who sits next to you is constantly complaining and is a real pessimist. His negative attitude might be bringing you down, while your positive attitude drives him crazy too.



3. Conflicts Of Interest


Conflicts of interest are focused on the ways goals are attempted to be achieved. They are generally related to time, staff, space, and/or money.


An example of a conflict of interest in the workplace could be if a manager hired someone unqualified for a position simply because they are personal friends with them.



Our Response To Conflict

We all respond to conflict differently. Much of our typical responses to conflict have to do with our childhood or past relationships, sometimes even unfortunately assuming that every disagreement is bound to end badly, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.


That’s why it’s so important to learn conflict management skills and how to best apply them to your situations.



Healthy Responses To Conflict

Some healthy responses to conflict include being able to see the other person’s perspective, and listening to them in a calm and respectful manner. Part of responding in a healthy way to conflict also includes the ability to forgive and forget, letting go of any resentment. It means knowing when to make a compromise, accepting that facing the issue is the best thing for both parties.



Unhealthy Responses To Conflict

Unhealthy responses to conflict stem from an inability to see the other side and recognize what’s important to them. Responding to conflict in an unhealthy manner means reacting in a hurtful way, shaming the person, and refusing to meet in the middle. It also tends to mean expecting the worst, or even attempting to avoid the conflict overall.



How to Deal With Conflict?

What are conflict resolution steps that you can take? What are some conflict resolution examples? How do you handle conflict? Here are some proven ways to deal with conflict in a mature and healthy way.



1. Knowing To Say Sorry


Know when to apologize, even if it’s not easy and hurts your ego. Saying sorry can go a long way, and will never go unappreciated. Accepting that you made a mistake is part of being mature and resolving conflict.



2. Staying Calm – Manage Your Stress


Despite what you may be feeling, aim to stay calm no matter what. Manage your stress before you let it get the best of you, and before you end up doing or saying something that you regret.



3. Listening Actively


It’s one thing to listen, but it’s another thing to actively listen. Listen not just to the words the other person is saying, but to take everything in and consider their perspective while putting yours aside.



4. Letting Go And Forgiving


It may be hard, but when it comes to dealing with conflict, sometimes you just need to let go and forgive the other person. There’s no good in holding a grudge, and will only keep you in the same place.



5. Being Impartial — Separating Yourself


While in general it’s great to be passionate about what you do, it is important to separate yourself from the situation and not take things personally to heart. Let life happen, and understand that not everything is within your control.



6. Stay Positive


The power of positive thinking couldn’t be more true! The more you believe it, the more it will become your reality. Avoid assuming the worst in a conflict and convincing yourself that it’s bound to end badly. Decide that everything will go well, and it will.



7. Learning To Be Present


Being present and allowing yourself to really live in the moment can help you deal with conflicts that come your way. Forget what happened in the past. Focus on what’s happening right now. Do you really need to be in an argument right now over something that’s done?



8. Respecting Differences


When it comes to conflict, if you don’t respect each other’s differences, then solving the issue will be very difficult. Respecting others is the basis of conflict resolution doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to change your views, but it means accepting the fact that everyone is entitled to their own ways.



9. Capable Of Accepting Criticism


While it’s never pleasant to hear negative feedback about yourself, sometimes you’ve just got to take it in and realize that maybe it’s for the best. It may even help you improve yourself in the future. No one is perfect!



10. Choose Your Battles


We can’t fight them all, and we also can’t win them all, so you’ve got to decide which battles are really worth your time and energy. For the most part, most of them probably aren’t worth it. Let it go, and save yourself for what’s truly important in life.



11. Use Humor


Laughing is always better than crying. Humor is the best way to go when dealing with conflict (as long as it’s not sarcastic). It’s a great way to break the ice, show that you mean well, and to get both sides to let loose a bit, forgetting about all that built up anger.



12. Patience


With patience comes good things. This goes with anything in life. Don’t rush into anything, whether it be what you say or what you do. Wait it out, and let things work themselves out before you jump to any conclusions and work yourself up.



13. Focus On Teamwork


There’s no I in team, and that’s why it’s important to focus on working together and finding ways to make everyone happy and feel a part of the team.



14. Know When To Ignore Someone


If you’ve tried everything and used all the conflict management skills possible, but the person on the other end isn’t willing to make the effort to openly address the conflict, then perhaps it’s time to let go and move on. Resolving a conflict takes work from both sides, and sometimes, we’ve just got to ignore someone who is causing us unnecessary stress.



Couple had a conflict and are not communicating with each other, trying to avoid the issue
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels



Conflict Resolution Skills — It Takes Two To Tango

When trying to resolve a conflict, it can really only be solved if two people take part in the process and make the effort. Here are some conflict resolution examples that might be useful for you.



1. Talk It Out


Start by trying to talk things out. Express your feelings, listen to the other person, and see if you can understand each other’s differences and come to a mature agreement.



2. Avoid Being Defensive


Being defensive won’t get you very far when trying to solve a conflict. You can express how you’re feeling by using ‘I’ statements, but making yourself out to be the only victim isn’t the best way to go.



3. Avoid Pointing Fingers


Similar to avoiding being defensive, don’t play the blame game. You can talk about how you’re feeling and your own experience, but pointing fingers isn’t helpful at all and just shakes things up even more.



4. Listen


Listen to what the other side has to say. Hear them out, consider their perspective, and try to put yourself in their shoes. How would you react if you were them?



5. Avoid Criticism — Express Your Feelings


No one can deny the way that you’re feeling. But they can surely deny the things that you’re saying about them, and no one really wants to hear criticism anyway, unless it’s truly constructive.



6. Use A Calm Tone


The way in which you say something can completely change the message you’re trying to send. By using a calm tone, rather than screaming or raising your voice, you are more likely to be listened to and taken seriously.



7. Be Willing To Meet In The Middle: Win-Win


In a conflict, you can’t always expect it to end exactly the way you would have liked. There are two sides to every story, and that’s why you have to be willing to make some compromises and come to an agreement that you can both live with.



8. Avoid Talking Behind Their Back


No one appreciates being talked about behind their back, and it surely doesn’t help when trying to resolve a conflict. It does nothing but more damage. If you have negative feelings, keep it to yourself or approach the person in a mature way without coming off harshly.



9. Nothing Is Personal


It’s important to understand that in most cases, things are not personal or directed towards you specifically. Everyone has their own opinions and values based on what they were taught. Not agreeing with you has nothing to do with you.



10. Nonverbal Communication — Actions Speak Louder Than Words


While what you say when trying to resolve a conflict is significant, actions really do speak louder than words! Make sure that the way you are communicating non-verbally is also non-aggressive and shows that you want to solve the issue, such as looking the person in the eye when they speak and giving them your undivided attention.



11. Give Up Being Right


You may believe that you’re right, and you may in fact be right. But knowing that you’re right should be enough to give you the satisfaction that you need to move on and give it up. Don’t waste your time fighting.



12. Forgive And Forget


Holding grudges and being resentful won’t get anyone anywhere. Let the past be a part of history, focus on the present, and allow yourself to forgive any mistakes that were made. We’re all here to make things work.



13. Let Go Of The Past


Part of forgiving means letting go of what was, and focusing more on the present and future. Make it your goal to improve what’s to come, rather than grieve over what already happened.



14. Focus On The Relationship


Is your relationship really worth losing over this conflict? Ask yourself this simple question, and decide if you really want to risk everything over a small disagreement.



15. Explore All Options


It’s never your way or the highway when it comes to conflict. There are always different ways to approach a conflict and come up with a solution. Be sure to explore all of those options and make sure that everyone leaves in the best possible place.



Conflict Management Skills: What Can Managers Focus On?

As a manager in a workplace, it often means that it’s your responsibility to step in and attempt to help your employees resolve conflicts. You’ve been given a leadership role, and conflicts are where you’re really put to the test.


Here are some critical conflict management skills for managers, and what they should focus on.



Identify The Signs


In order to deal with conflict, you first have to recognize it. As a manager, it’s important to pay attention to the signs and know when it’s time to step in and take action.


Some signs that conflict exist include: if the employee’s quality of work starts to reduce, if they are late on deadlines, if they are constantly asking for time off, showing up late, and if there are any changes in communication between employees.


Define The Issue


Once you’ve identified that there’s a conflict in the workplace, it’s important to remove the ‘what’ from the ‘why’. You may be able to easily spot that there’s an issue – but what’s most important is to understand the root of the problem, and tackle that.



Break Down The Situation


Break down the situation, try to see what’s happening from all sides, and not just from one employee’s perspective. Try to find correlational factors to what’s happening, rather than just blaming specific people.



Ask Questions


It’s important to ask questions, but not just any questions. You need to ask smart questions that don’t offend anyone, and that really help you get to the root of the issue. Avoid placing blame in your questions, and only speak for yourself. Be sure to also include follow-up questions and show the person that you are here to help.



Avoid Bias


As a manager, it can be a challenge to avoid taking sides and remain completely neutral — managers are people too, after all! Still, it’s crucial to frame your questions objectively, and give everyone an equal opportunity to express their side.



Make Those Tough Calls


Your job as a manager is to take charge, even if it’s not easy. Sometimes you have to make those tough calls, keeping company values in mind and doing the right thing for everyone, putting aside your personal views.



Set Yourself Up For Success


In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have any conflict. Not in the workplace, and not anywhere else. But this is our reality, and you can set yourself up for success by preparing yourself to handle conflicts by mastering the art of conflict management skills.