How to Thrive in the Face of Conflict

By Elise Mitchell, an Octane blog contributor and  CEO of Mitchell Communications Group

Few things in life are certain.

An old adage narrows down the list to two items: death and taxes. But I’d argue that we could also add conflict to that list. Put two or more smart people in a room for an extended period of time and different points of view are bound to arise.

Conflict can be a healthy part of a high-performing workplace if it leads to constructive debate and better outcomes for the team, but unresolved conflict can be a distraction and erode trust between team members. Letting it fester can be toxic to your workplace.

One study revealed that 81% of HR professionals have cited ongoing conflict as the main reason for an employee’s resignation, and 77% say it’s a common source of employee absenteeism.

These consequences can be costly to your business, and they illustrate why it’s so important to monitor and quell workplace conflict as soon as it arises. In doing so, you actually turn a bad situation into a great learning experience that will undoubtedly help your company down the road.

Good things come from conflict resolution: new thinking, new points of view, and a deeper understanding of others. It opens the door for positive adjustments and endless new possibilities.

Your Role in Conflict Management

First, let’s clear up a common misconception: Having conflict on your team doesn’t mean you’re a bad leader.

Conflict is a regular part of workplace life, and your role as a leader is to swiftly deal with it, minimize its negative impact, and learn from it.

Conflict management skills come naturally to some people, but for others, the task can be quite daunting. It all stems from your level of emotional intelligence: Are you empathetic? Are you a good listener? Can you build trust? These are the key qualities of conflict management.

Here’s my conflict resolution guide for leaders:

  1. Act quickly. Get to the heart of the issue as quickly as possible. Unresolved conflict will escalate and cause additional problems as it grows.
  1. Understand the situation. Speak directly to those involved, listen well, and pose clarifying questions to ensure you fully understand what’s going on.
  1. Keep it contained. Don’t allow others to get drawn into the negativity. Advise only those who are directly involved.
  1. Peel back the layers. Be sure every issue is on the table. Conflicts often have multiple layers, and their root cause could easily go unspoken.
  1. Stay engaged. Some peoples’ flight instincts kick in when things escalate. Don’t let this happen to you or your employees. Keep everyone engaged all the way through to the resolution.
  1. Find common ground. Focus primarily on what the involved parties have in common. This will lead to mutually beneficial resolutions.
  1. Move forward. Communicate what you expect going forward, and hold others accountable for these changes.
  1. Check in. Periodically assess the success of your solutions. Make adjustments as needed to ensure continued progress.

The idea of confronting and quelling conflict can be nerve-wracking to some leaders, but ignoring it or delaying its resolution will only make things worse. Rarely do these things work themselves out, and whatever solution you reach will undoubtedly improve your workplace and bottom line.

Like it or not, conflict resolution comes with your leadership role. Monitoring and addressing conflict as it arises will ensure a happy, present, and productive workforce for your company.

Elise Mitchell is the CEO of Mitchell Communications Group. She is an accomplished strategic communications professional and business leader whose entrepreneurial spirit helped build Mitchell into one of the top 10 fastest-growing firms globally and a two-time Agency of the Year winner, honored by PRWeek and The Holmes Report. In recognition of her accomplishments, Elise has received numerous awards, including being named PRWeek Agency Public Relations Professional of the Year and a Top 50 Power Player in PR.

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