5 Ways to Turn Employee Conflict into a Good Thing

August 8, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

Yesterday we talked about the pros and cons of conflict (which is inevitable in any workplace) and posed a question. How can you create a  culture where workers will choose constructive styles of resolution over negative?

Those constructive conflict resolution styles, if you recall, included both “collaborative” and “compromise” methods. Both require open lines of communication and a solid culture of trust and understanding that helps employees come to a win-win solution.

If you create an open, relationship-based environment that helps workers consistently choose these two styles, conflict can actually transform into a bonus for your organization, enabling it to better adapt and thrive. (And keeping the need for external mediation at a minimum.)

Here are five suggestions for laying the groundwork for smoother conflict resolution:

  1. Establish Common Ground – One of the best ways to ensure a good outcome from conflict is to establish a shared set of values and goals in your organization. If your company is communicating and continually reinforcing great core values and goals, you’ve already done the hard part. When conflicts arise, you’ve given your employees a broad space in which to reach an accord, and defined the acceptable behavior it takes to get there.
  2. Emphasize the Outcome – This one comes from Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s terrific book First Break All the Rules, which is one of my all time favorite books. In it, the authors stress the importance of giving up the short-term opportunity to score points in a conflict. Encourage employees, when conflict happens, to keep their minds on the outcome they want and work toward that, rather than reacting to “win” the argument. Additionally, suggest that they look beyond any shallow attacks an opponent might make and trying to find the deeper motivation that is driving their behavior. This puts relationships and outcomes first and prepares the ground for success.
  3. Empower and Respect – Provide employees with the confidence to resolve conflict themselves by both increasing their PsyCap (Self-Efficacy, Optimism, Resilience and Hope) and establishing a culture of respect that ensures civility and trust.
  4. Focus on the Positive – Clear communication and language, which focuses not on past blame but on the future resolution, is key. When people come into conflict there is a tendency to want to assign fault, or name-call. Encourage workers to diffuse their rhetoric, use “I” focused language (instead of “you” focused language) and offer positive feedback. Stick to the issues and compassionately reframe them where needed.
  5. Encourage Empathy –Encourage parties to see one another’s needs and motivations as clearly as their own. Have them acknowledge and restate one another’s concerns. Encourage face-to-face conflict resolution. Most importantly, give employees a culture that humanizes and encourages great working relationships based on appreciation and positive feedback.

When managed well, conflict can be a good thing for an organization. I hope these five tips can help you to create an environment where conflict is a net positive, and a source of creativity and growth.