How to manage conflict. We will leave it to the theologians, philosophers, and psychologists to tell us why people can’t get along. Whatever you attribute it to, wherever men, women, and children gather, there you will find conflict. 

Once you acknowledge that conflict is inevitable, how to manage conflict in your workplace is what every business leader should be asking themselves.  

Here are 7 steps leaders can take to protect their people from the cancer of conflict. 

STEP 1: Share the cost of conflict with your team(s). 

To correct or control negative behavior, it helps to make everyone aware of the cost. Most people can see and feel how conflict hurts morale and relationships; they either experience it firsthand or have a front row seat to the conflict of others. What they probably don’t know is the financial cost to the organization, which ultimately affects them.   

The Society of Human Resource Management sites a study by The CCP Global Report that revealed many of the costs of workplace conflict. For instance, on average, each employee spends 2.1 hours per week dealing with conflict. One in ten of the respondents spent 6 hours or more each week dealing with conflict. That is time spent not doing their job.   

When your team(s) is aware of the cost of conflict, you are ready to take the next step. 

STEP 2: Set the expectations for how to manage conflict and back it up by your example.

With your team(s) fully aware of the cost, communicate that minimizing conflict’s negative effects is a top priority. Meet both as a team and individually with each team member to gain their support and commitment to the cause. Ask everyone for their ideas on how to manage conflict. 

Getting input from your team(s) increases commitment and accountability because people buy-in to what they create. 

As the leader, you must then live it out for all to see. Your integrity is on the line. You will probably need some tools. This leads us to the next step.

STEP 3: Provide training for you and your team(s) on how to manage conflict.

Most people have never received any formal training on how to address the inevitable conflict we all experience. Instead, your personality, role-models and experiences combine to give you your own unique approach.

Because confrontation is so uncomfortable, most people avoid it, but that usually doesn’t end well. With tools that foster collaboration, people become more confident to address difficult conversations and do so sooner. 

There are many great books on the topic. A book that started it all for us at Retention Architects is Crucial Conversations. It was so impactful that I went on to become a certified Crucial Conversations trainer. 

Now that everyone has the tools to talk about the hard stuff, what’s next?

STEP 4: Practice and encourage vulnerability-based trust.

We’ve all heard and understand the importance of trust in our relationships. Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Behaviors of a Dysfunctional Team introduces a different type of trust. He calls it vulnerability-based trust.

This is where people feel comfortable to be real, to be open and honest about their strengths and weaknesses, to say things like “I messed up, that was my fault, I’m sorry.”

For this to take root, it must first be established and demonstrated by you, the leader.

When people on your team demonstrate this type of trust, back-office politics, and personal agendas fade. This promotes better teamwork and less conflict. For how to manage conflict, this is key.

There is a workshop created by Wiley Corporation and Patrick Lencioni, that helps teams move from dysfunction to cohesion. We at Retention Architects are certified to offer this workshop to our clients. 

Now that you are working better as a team, there is some very important work for you to do.

STEP 5: Reduce conflict by clarifying your values, goals, processes, and job roles

We worked with the C-Suite of a company who contracted our services to help them overcome their dysfunction. Yes, they were doing things like sending long nasty emails, but those were only symptoms of a deeper problem. 

It was a group of people who, under normal working conditions, would work well together. Instead, they were trapped in an inferior system that set them up to fail, marked by a lack of definition, transparency, and accountability.    

Following many of the principles we learned from the book Traction: Get a Grip On Your Business, we were able to help them clarify and define the values, goals, daily processes, and job roles of the company. The result was a much more cohesive team with less conflict.  

With so much now working in your favor, here is the next step in how to manage conflict. 

STEP 6: Have regular one-to-one conversations with each one of your direct reports. 

So much conflict comes from a lack of communication. When people are left to wonder about the motivations or actions of others, they often fill the void with false interpretations.  

We recommend having what we call Retention Talks. This is a one-to-one conversation that you, as the supervisor, have with each of your direct reports. If you have supervisors that report to you, we recommend you have them do the same with their direct reports.

This is a conversation you have 2 to 4 times per year where you ask things like, “how is it going with your job?  Is there anything I can do better as your supervisor?” First and foremost, Retention Talks are a development and retention tool.

However, what you learn from these conversations will position you to proactively address conflicts before they get out of hand or even get started.

Now that you’re having these meaningful conversations regularly, what’s next? 

STEP 7: Stay tuned for the next blog from Retention Architects where we will take a deeper dive in how to manage conflict.