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Conflict Management for Leaders: Ten Steps to a Brighter Career

Everyone has a responsibility to manage conflict in the workplace; however, the team leader or manager is viewed as having ultimate responsibility. In fact, research shows that managers are more likely to be promoted and rise in their career when others regard them as effective at handling conflict. Research also shows that managers viewed as ineffective in managing conflict get sidelined into career tracks with limited potential and sometimes find their careers derailed altogether.

For those who are comfortable in conflict situations and at creating an environment where conflict leads to productive outcomes, this is great news! You are quite likely poised for promotion, interesting assignments, and more money in your career. On the other hand, for those who feel uncomfortable in emotionally charged situations and unprepared to mediate a conflict between others, the future may not be as bright. However, you can turn this around. Make no mistake – leading others skillfully and managing conflict well are learned behaviors.

No one is 100 percent effective in all conflict situations by birth alone. Becoming more effective in handling conflict occurs gradually and with a commitment to developing conflict behaviors that are constructive. Here are ways you can take big leaps and be seen by others as a manager who cares about the type and amount of conflict in your team.

Ten steps to reaching your goal:

  • Be aware of the type of situations that cause conflict in your workgroup. Observe the interactions of others, note what you see and hear, keep a record, and look below the surface for themes and similarities.
  • Think about conflict situations that make you uncomfortable and behaviors of others that are hot buttons for you. You’ll need to be super-cautious of your own actions if there is potential for your own hot buttons being pushed.
  • Think about your skills and ways you shine as a manager. Could any of those behaviors be helpful to the partners in the conflict situation?
  • Consider how a particular conflict situation could be handled most effectively. How could this affect your demeanor and determine your actions as you attempt to intervene in a constructive way?
  • Take responsibility, respond in a timely way. Assess the needs of the situation early and determine the best course of action. Perhaps you should get involved immediately or perhaps you should monitor the situation letting your employees resolve their own dispute. Most important, don't delay in the hope that the problem will disappear on its own.
  • Create an environment conducive to conflict resolution (privacy, ample time, open minds, comfort).
  • Model the behaviors you most want to see in others — a calm demeanor, active listening, respect, and other conflict resolution behaviors you determine appropriate for the situation.
  • Set ground rules for the discussion and guide employees through process of telling their story, identifying concerns, clarifying issues, brainstorming options, and coming to agreement.
  • Use your communication skills in summarizing, paraphrasing, highlighting, pausing, using silence, asking open-ended questions, reflecting feelings and asking for clarification. If your skills are weak in these areas, learn more about them and practice.
  • Help parties develop an action plan or agreement including a follow-up session to measure progress.

Remember, learning new behaviors will take time, patience, and practice. You won’t reach your goal overnight, but you’ll make sure and noticeable shifts to developing the confidence and skills you seek.

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