Conflict is inevitable. It’s not a matter of if it will happen but rather when it will happen. Whether at home or work, disagreements require us to navigate through discomfort, tension, and fear. With so many differing points of view and backgrounds, managing workplace conflict is a necessary skill for employers and employees alike to maintain a healthy and safe work environment. 

Use an internal moderator

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests a 10 step approach to managing workplace conflict that begins with scheduling a meeting in a neutral place to address the problem. The meeting itself should flow like this: 

  1. Set ground rules. Ask all parties to treat each other with respect and to make an effort to listen and understand others’ views.
  2. Ask each participant to describe the conflict, including desired changes. Direct participants to use “I” statements, not “you” statements. They should focus on specific behaviors and problems rather than people.
  3. Ask participants to restate what others have said.
  4. Summarize the conflict based on what you have heard and obtain agreement from participants.
  5. Brainstorm solutions. Discuss all of the options in a positive manner.
  6. Rule out any options that participants agree are unworkable.
  7. Summarize all possible options for a solution.
  8. Assign further analysis of each option to individual participants.
  9. Make sure all parties agree on the next steps.
  10. Close the meeting by asking participants to shake hands, apologize and thank each other for working to resolve the conflict.

This 10 step approach can work well when a skilled moderator is adept at managing workplace conflict. It may not work well for those with less training and doesn’t allow for individual team members to problem-solve on their own.   

Follow general best practices

Developing the skills to handle conflict is necessary for everyone in an organization. Handling some conflicts are best done more independently and don’t require a moderator. Managing workplace conflict well includes these best practices and tips:   

  1. Clarify the root cause. Understand what caused the conflict so that you can solve the right problem. Asking good questions will help you uncover it. 
  2. Make it private. Find a neutral place to have a quiet conversation. Both sides should feel safe to speak truthfully. 
  3. Listen first. While it’s tempting to talk, it’s more important to listen. Practice being a better listener to truly hear what the other side is saying during your conversation.
  4. Investigate the situation. Take time to research the other’s side of the issue before reaching a final solution or making a decision if one is required. 
  5. Identify the goal. Determine what the goal is for each side and what resolution each side is trying to reach. This may be a goal that best serves the individual or the organization.
  6. Find common ground. Know what each side can live with and seek this end goal with the help of great questions, listening, and compromise. 

Managing workplace conflict requires time and attention from the top of an organization to the bottom. Whether you have a trained moderator or not, you can work through conflict more effectively when you practice the tips outlined above.