Conflict management in an organisation


Managing conflict is no easy task. It often requires time, patience, reflection and energy. Corporate conflict management is no different. When it comes to managing conflict in organisations, we are often subject to teams that become siloed and individuals that avoid each other. These behaviours are costly, not only to an organisations bottom line but also come at the cost of effective working relationships and therefore harmony within the workplace.

Organisational conflict management or the management of any conflict within an organisation needs to be navigated cautiously and systematically. However, many organisations don’t know how to manage conflict effectively. They stick their heads in the sand in the hope the conflict will blow over. Or worse, attempt to manage conflict without any structure or process, often exacerbating matters rather than resolving them.

The question now becomes how to manage conflict in an organisation? In a way that builds strong and functional teams that can navigate difficulty for themselves and each other.

Self-Awareness Is Key

Any form of corporate conflict management should start by focusing on each individual involved in the conflict. It’s important to recognise that there are two parts to every conflict. Firstly, we have the emotion/behaviours/assumptions that naturally exist when we as humans engage in conflict. Secondly, we have the substantive issue or problem to be solved. Managing conflict in organisations is best navigated by starting with each individual involved.  We want to explore each individuals’ ‘two- parts’ to conflict. This gives us a comprehensive understanding of the situation.

Although there are many ways to deal with conflict, examining conflict at the individual level ensures that each individual involved in the conflict is given to opportunity to be heard.  This also prevents any resentment from lingering in the future and ensures all of the issues are identified and managed.

The challenge we face when managing conflict in organisations is that often people lack the self-awareness to identify the emotions they are feeling, the assumptions they are making and the behaviours they are manifesting.

Listen to Everyone Involved and Hear Their Views

Ideally in organisational conflict resolution we have all parties sharing and listening to each other’s views. Sadly, managing conflict in organisations isn’t always this easy. One of the most effective ways to deal with conflict is to start by acknowledging and de-escalating the emotion. This requires us to pinpoint and name the emotions we are feeling and those that others are feeling too.

Corporate conflict management and any conflict management for that matter requires us to start with emotion.  There are many ways to deal with conflict, it is however imperative we start with emotion as emotion is what charges conflict. A disagreement becomes conflict because of the emotion we attach to it. Organisational conflict management needs to start with navigating the many emotions that exist within a conflict. If we ignore emotion, it doesn’t go away and feelings towards each other continue to linger and fester over time. In corporate conflict management we always start by acknowledging and extinguishing emotion.

Understand the Situation

When it comes to managing conflict in organisations, we need to ensure we take a wholistic view. It’s incredibly easy to focus solely on your own or one parties point of view.  To effectively understand the situation, we need to gain clarity on all of the data, not just the information we choose to see. To comprehensively understand the situation in personal and corporate conflict resolution, we need to rely upon an objective tool or process that will assist us to see things more clearly. We need to categorise the data we see, the emotion we feel, the assumptions we’re making and the behaviours we’re exhibiting. We also need to do the same for the other party involved in the conflict.

Organisations don’t always have defined processes for how to manage conflict objectively. Once we have independently identified and acknowledged all of the data, emotion, assumptions and behaviours existent with a conflict, we then prepare for the organisational conflict resolution conversation. In any corporate conflict resolution, we need to prepare for the conversation. We need to know what to say and how to say it in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the situation at hand.

Prepare for Resolution

If we don’t to prepare for the resolution conversation, we set ourselves up for failure. It’s not uncommon to have conflict resolution conversations fail because of poor planning and preparation. Many people don’t know how to manage conflict resolution conversations. They often begin a conversation unprepared, hoping it will end well. They don’t always do.

We need to prepare for our corporate conflict resolution conversations in a systematic fashion. More specifically we need to have a series of questions ready to ask about the data, emotion, assumptions and behaviour that exist within any given conflict. When managing conflict in organisations, it’s best to be transparent about the process you are adopting. The aim in taking this approach is to reduce the emotion fuelling the conflict. Once we have extinguished the high emotion, we can then approach the substantive issue or problem that needs to be solved,

Strategies for Preventing Conflict

We need to actively manage ourselves to prevent conflict from occurring. Why? When it comes to organisational conflict management often our assumptions get the better of us. As human beings we have tendency to see ourselves in a positive light and others in a negative light. Often, we assume things about others. These assumptions aren’t always accurate. If these assumptions continue unchecked, then they can result in misunderstanding and potentially lead to conflict.

Many organisations engage in conflict resolution training. It’s well established that workplace conflict in addition to being exhausting, impacts an organisation work culture and bottom line. One thing better than engaging training to solve conflict within a company, is to engage in training to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Some strategies to consider include

  • Consider points of view other than your own
  • Ask for reasoning, don’t assume you know what others mean
  • Engage in active listening and active speaking to avoid miscommunication.

Strategies for Reducing Conflict

One of the most effective ways to manage conflict and promote corporate conflict resolution is to engage in training for conflict resolution in an organisation. Providing individuals with the essential tools to prevent and reduce conflict as it arises is imperative for every workplace. There are a multitude of training providers that offer training to solve conflict in a company.

Given that here are many ways to deal with conflict not all of them equip individuals with the right tools to reduce conflict. As listed above we want to start by acknowledging the emotional dimension that exists in all conflict. One strategy to reduce conflict is to identify for yourself and in others the emotion you or they might be feeling. Becoming more present in the moment and engaging in some mindfulness practices is a great way to spot conflict on the horizon.

Solve the Issue From its Roots

Once we have navigated the emotional aspects of conflict, we need to solve the substantive issue. At times, once the emotional aspect is navigated, it’s not uncommon for there to be no real issue to solve. At times the conflict at hand may be all emotion. However, if there is a problem to be solved, we must dig deep onto the problem, identify root causes and navigate a way forward.

When it comes to corporate conflict resolution, we have three broad approaches to solving the issues. We can adopt an interest, rights or power-based approach. Each of these approaches have different outcomes and will be more or less applicable depending on the conflict at hand.

Most organisational conflict management should lead with an interest-based approach, followed by rights then power. When managing conflict in organisations, we should use a power based approach as last resort as the overuse of power when resolving conflict tends to negatively impact company culture.

Accept People for Everything They Are (and Are Not)

One of the most challenging aspects of conflict resolution is accepting that our perception of people and the expectations we create don’t always align with the reality we have before us. We don’t always know how to manage conflict or the best ways to deal with conflict. A great place to start is to accept people for everything they are and, in some cases, are not. As listed above a large portion of conflict is emotion. We need to accept the people we are in conflict with and validate the emotion they are feeling whether we agree with it or not.

Once we accept the emotion that is in front of us, often blocking the road forward, then we can begin resolve the substantive issues at hand. The difficulty we face is that accepting people and the emotions they hold is hard in a corporate setting. Many corporate conflicts resolution strategy’s fail to navigate emotion because it’s too hard or worse ignore it and leave it to fester. Beginning to accept people, emotions and all will make it easier to move forward and leave conflict behind you.

Don’t Forget About Regular Feedback

A large part of any organisational conflict management is ensuring you promote the right culture. One sure fire way to reduce the potential for conflict arising within a workplace is to effectively provide feedback. More specifically appreciation. Appreciation builds relationship and motivates people. If we’re in a constant state of genuinely appreciating others we’re strengthening our connection with others and motivating rather than creating negative assumptions.

Many organisations engage in training to solve conflict with a company. Of course, we need to know how to manage conflict once it has arisen, but we’re better placed to create a culture that circumvents the need for conflict resolution. Providing regular genuine appreciation will help any organisation do this.

Collaborate with the Team to Create Conflict Resolution Protocols

Getting your teams involvement when it comes to corporate conflict resolution is a great way to establish a positive culture around effectively resolving conflict. There are many ways to deal with conflict resolution. Perhaps the most effective way to get groups of people aligned in one approach of conflict resolution is to engage in training. By engaging in training, you have a group of employees with an organisation ascribing to the same framework, process and expectations around corporate conflict management.

Collaborate with the Team to Create Guidelines for Communication

One of the largest contributors to conflict in organisations is miscommunication. If we engage in effective communication, we reduce the capacity for misunderstanding and therefore the conflict that may ensue.

It’s important that you collaborate with our team and collectively define expectations around communication. A great place to start is establishing protocols for interactive listening and interactive speaking. We want to ensure that we are present when wea are listening and speaking. If we’re speaking, we want to have guidelines to ensure what we are saying it what is received. If we are listening, we want to ensure what and what we are hearing is what was intended.

Reach Agreement

Reaching agreement in any conflict is not easy feat. It also doesn’t have to be hard. Organisational conflict resolution requires a defined process and practice. The more we engage in corporate conflict resolution practices the better we become at the skill of reducing or managing conflict in organisations.

We need to start by diffusing the emotion that is ever present in conflict. Once we have the emotion navigated, we can then tackle the problem at hand. The most effective means to reach a complete agreement that is sustainable in the long term is to take an interest-based approach. True agreement requires an identification of each parties concerns and solution that speaks to all of the concerns present.

Corporate conflict resolution is a skill that will enable you to get projects back on track, take flight and make your and professional life easier.

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