Managing Disagreements And Conflicts In The Workplace

This is one area that managers are concerned about, mainly because conflict within team members often appears to be very personal and can affect morale very deeply. What causes it and how can you deal with it?


Firstly, why does it happen?

The main reasons for conflict appear to be:

• Disagreements over responsibilities (who should do what)

• Disagreements over policy (how things should be done)

• Conflicts of personality and style

These are some of the ways we typically deal with conflict.

Do you see yourself in any of them?

• Avoid the conflict.

• Deny it exists; wait until it goes away.

• Change the subject.

• React emotionally; become aggressive, abusive, in denial or frightening.

• Find someone to blame.

• Make excuses.

• Delegate the situation to someone else.


Can you imagine the results if this is allowed to continue?

What would happen to trust, morale, teamwork and efficiency?

This is why it’s important to deal with conflict within the team before it blows out of proportion.

Factors That Affect How People Manage Conflict

Some of the factors that affect how we behave in the face of conflict are:

•    Status: People in higher-status positions usually feel freer to engage in conflict and are less likely to avoid confrontation.

•    Gender differences: Males are generally encouraged to be more confrontational than females.

•    Learned behaviours: In some teams, conflict and confrontation are a communication style. In others, conflict always remains hidden.


Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict resolution is a set of skills that can be learned. Firstly we’ll look at how you can understand the conflict through effective listening skills, then we’ll look at ways to deal with it.

Improve your Listening Skills

By listening actively, you show a level of understanding of the situation without casting judgement. You are also able to identify the emotions that have brought about the situation in the first place.

People in conflict often get emotional, so your role is to see through the emotions by really listening to the real issues, rather than the person’s opinions or judgements.

Your responses should be made up of two parts:

(1) naming the feeling that the other person is conveying, and

(2) stating the reason for the feeling.


Here are some examples of active-listening statements:

“It sounds like you’re upset by Jenny’s remarks.”

“So, you’re angry about the mistakes Pat made. Is that correct?”

“I get the feeling you have different expectations on this project to Mike”

Notice that you just state the facts, as you see it, rather than judging the feeling.

Remember, actively listening is not the same as agreement. It is a way of demonstrating that you intend to hear and understand another’s point of view.


•    It feels good when another person makes an effort to understand what you are thinking and feeling.

•    Restating what you’ve heard, and checking for understanding, promotes better communication and produces fewer misunderstandings.

•    Responding with active listening has a calming effect in an emotional situation.

Actions to deal with conflict

I’m sure you’ve seen conflicts escalate and cause even more problems, so what can you do to heighten your chances of dealing with conflict?

• Use “I” and “me” statements; “you” statements sound accusatory and blaming

• Avoid name-calling and put-downs (“Any logical person could see that…”).

• Soften your tone.

• Take a time-out (“Let’s take a break and cool down”).

• Acknowledge the other person’s point of view (agreement is not necessary).

• Avoid defensive or hostile body language (rolling eyes, crossing arms in front of body, tapping foot).

• Be specific and factual; avoid generalities.

Can you avoid conflict?

Is there a way you could avoid conflict in the first place, so you don’t have to go through all this pain? Some ideas may include:

•    Handle situations as they are occurring, rather than allowing them time to fester and gain momentum.

•    Become aware of what sets off conflict in your area. What touchpoints do you notice that causes people to have minor disagreements that build into exasperation, then full blown conflict?

•    Coach everyone in the team on how to deal with conflict if it’s an issue. Prevention is always better than cure

By building conflict-handling skills within yourself and your team, you create better chances of nipping this potential motivation-killer in the bud.

Thanks again,


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

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