Leadership

9 Tips for HR to Manage Conflict in the Workplace

Two men are involved in a verbal conflict while at work.

Dealing with conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. The ability to recognize conflict between employees, understand the nature of it, and use techniques to bring a quick and fair resolution to conflict is a critical skill for managers and leaders.

As a manager or HR professional, resolving conflict between teams and employees can save a company from a lot of turmoil.

These nine tips and techniques will help with resolving conflict at work, whether they’re little disagreements or major blow ups.

Our online training library offers a variety of videos on how to gain a better understanding of the causes of conflicts, defining a course of action, and showcasing the necessary skills needed to implement your conflict resolution plan. Preview one of our videos on conflict de-escalation:

1. Developing Emotional Intelligence

As a leader, having emotional intelligence goes a long way in terms of understanding and interpreting your own feelings, as well as your employees’ feelings.

This skill is broken down into four categories: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. The first pillar, self-awareness, helps to build understanding and confidence, and provides the foundation for strong relationships. Next, self-management is where you learn how to control your emotions at work. This then strengthens social awareness by learning to acknowledge others’ emotions and developing empathy for your employees’ situations. Finally, relationship management will be how you inspire others and develop them to build their own emotional intelligence.

To dive deeper into the topic of EQ, read our ebook “Practical EQ: A Handbook for Developing Your Emotional Intelligence.”

2. Agreeing to Disagree

If you’re a manager or supervisor, you can create a team culture where disagreement is okay, can be appreciated, encouraged, and expected.

Since we all have different opinions, disagreement comes naturally at work. Every opinion matters, so disagreements should be dealt with professionally and fairly.

Train employees how to disagree respectfully and constructively and lessen any discord between employees.

3. Pay Attention to Conflict That Goes Unsaid

Sometimes, disagreements are not discussed. For example, a new employee is not likely to speak up about something he or she disagrees with right away. As a manager, you need to build trust with your direct reports and be an active part of the team.

You need to read the signs. You may see negative body language at a meeting or during a conversation such as rolling the eyes, a quick facial flash of disgust or disbelief, leaning over to make a comment to the person sitting next to them, or even a quiet (or not-so-quiet) snort.

Be alert for any negative statements, sarcastic comments, or barbs. Also be alert for any push-back in employees’ actions. You may notice your team members venting to each other, and then stop when you walk up.

4. Look at Things From the Other Person’s Point of View

That sounds obvious, but it still needs saying. Other people’s viewpoints are just as valid to them as yours is to you.

We’re often so focused on our own version of what should be that we lose sight of how others may feel about it.

Handling conflict at work well requires considering other viewpoints and understanding what’s so compelling about those positions versus yours.

To train your employees to put themselves into others’ shoes, use these questions to reflect on:

  • When was a time someone accused me of something before, but I could share my side? How did that make me feel?
  • Does this person already feel guilty about what happened? How would it make them feel if I put in my two cents?
  • Did this person know what they did was wrong?

Having employees consider these questions will help them not to jump to conclusions and prevent unnecessary conflicts.

5. Only Speak for Yourself

It’s one thing to understand others. It’s another thing to assume you know their position, and to take that position for them.

Your managers will get better results if you let your people speak for themselves, and you act as the facilitator to make sure the discussion is productive.

6. Assess the Situation Before the Conversation

If there is a situation with an employee who is frequently missing work with no notice, not engaging in meetings, or having personality conflicts amongst coworkers, connect with others on your team to see if there have been any previous issues with this employee or if it is a first-time occurrence.

Review the company’s policies to see if there was a misinterpretation of regulations. There might be a matter at home your employee is dealing with, so connecting back to emotional intelligence, it is important to be empathetic towards them.

Preparing yourself or your managers before having a difficult conversation can create a better understanding of what went wrong and why.

7. Don’t Disagree by Email

Although many of us love to vent, in general, email is not a good medium for handling conflict. Even if you’re a good writer, it’s just too hard to convey everything you need to say at 40 words-per-minute.

It’s too hard to include any emotional nuances. What you meant to say can easily be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Also, emails are forever. You can’t unsend them. It’s easy to write something when you’re fired up, and then later regret it.

Train your employees that if they have something disagreeable to convey to someone, they should go see them face-to-face, call them on the phone, or ask if they’re free to video chat. It’ll be a much more productive communication experience. Taking notes is perfectly fine, but they shouldn’t rely only on what they’ve written to deal with the conflict.

8. Listen, then Speak

As Stephen Covey puts it in his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

We know what we think is right. So, we always want to speak first to convince others. When both sides approach it that way, then no one’s listening.

Active listening is one of the most basic techniques there is for managing conflict in the workplace, so this is an especially important skill to learn and teach others.

 9. No Issue Is too Small

When you and your managers are overseeing many employees, you might not realize conflicts your staff are potentially facing. Sometimes employees feel as though their issue is something they should just brush off and that it will be an inconvenience for HR or their supervisor.

A situation that might not bother you could heavily affect another employee and inhibit their day-to-day work. This is why management and HR must create a safe environment for their staff to voice their concerns and opinions.

Providing conflict resolution training to employees can significantly improve the effectiveness and engagement of your teams. If you’re looking for modern training on soft skills like conflict management and resolution, be sure to check out what our online employee training library has to offer.

Here’s a preview of “Productively Resolving Conflicts” to give you a quick look at what our online video training is like:

For more information on developing your employees’ soft skills with online content, check out our ebook.

Training & Development Industry Researcher | Bae researches and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. She looks at L&D and HR issues and industry trends and helps them understand how to create better training programs that grow their employees and their business.