Conflict management strategies for successful managers

Updated 24 November 2022

Conflict management is a key skill for anyone who needs to deal with customers or staff members on a day-to-day basis, and this is especially the case for management. It's the job of a manager to make sure the department is efficient, and this involves removing conflicts between employees. By implementing a few strategies, managers can prevent arguments and get employees to work more effectively. In this article, we explore some of the most common conflict management strategies you can employ.

What are conflict management strategies?

Conflict management strategies are the ways a manager can engage with their employees productively when it seems like there is a risk of conflicts and arguments emerging. People naturally deal with conflicts in different ways, but some can be better than others when it comes to keeping everyone involved in the situation happy and productive.

By combining your own natural conflict management style with any of the styles below, you can develop a range of responses to arguments and clashes in the workplace. This range allows for situational adjustments, putting you in the best position possible to respond to any issues as you better understand how to handle conflict at work.

Related: How to mediate conflicts (with definitions and steps)

Types of conflict management strategies

Rather than there being only one way to resolve a conflict, there is a selection of conflict management solutions that you can adopt. This allows you to adjust your response to the situation that arises, rather than having to settle for a conflict management strategy that doesn't suit the situation. You may even combine and blend strategies sometimes, as this can give you the chance to further tailor your response to the specific needs of the situation at hand. Some of the most reliable strategies include:

Avoiding style

The avoiding style is a relatively simple strategy that includes adjustment of outside factors rather than directly addressing the conflict and seeking to change the views of the arguing parties. The only role that the manager takes is in separating those in the conflict and assigning them to different tasks. The idea behind this method of conflict resolution is that it allows for a period of reflection from all of those involved. In their time away from the conflict, all parties can reflect on their own actions and the actions of all involved.

Example: Teddy and Faye have been sharing a workstation, and an argument over the amount of space each is taking up has emerged. It's a busy day, and both are getting increasingly frustrated. By splitting the two up and allowing them time to calm down, management is able to defuse the argument and the two can return to the previous working arrangement when things have calmed.

Related: What Are Conflict Resolution Skills? Definition and Examples

Competing style

The competing style is one of the fastest ways to resolve a conflict. However, it can often be bad for the productivity and morale of your workforce. This can involve abruptly using your position to end the discussion and making a quick decision rather than moderating and listening to both sides of the argument. This may be negative for the morale of your staff on one side of the argument, as they may feel entirely dismissed by the events that have taken place. You may use the competing strategy as a last resort when other attempts at soothing the conflict have failed.

Example: Two colleagues, Noel and Chloe, each believe their way of completing a task is better. Chloe has attempted to innovate to streamline the process and save time. Having begun an argument in which neither side is willing to back down, their manager dictates that they continue with Noel's method. Chloe feels disheartened, but the manager solved the issue.

Accommodating style

The accommodating style is the opposite of the competing style, and it involves one party yielding and letting the other party 'win' the argument. This is a conflict resolution method that you might look to employ when one of the two parties is incredibly stubborn, or the unresolved conflict has significantly affected the production. Whilst this can be beneficial for short-term argument resolution in the workplace when used too often, it could cause more issues than it resolves.

Example: Tony has been working, making pizzas for years and is set in his ways, proudly standing by his methods. James is new to the job and suggests some changes to the ways that Alex works. This erupts into an argument, and James chooses to back down and instead try to learn from Alex.

Related: Guide to people management: steps and skills for success

Compromising style

In the compromising style, neither of the participants in the argument gets exactly what they want from the situation, but both sides are able to agree on larger aspects of the issue and find some solace in the solution to the issue. This is best used when there is no wider solution that you can use to appease both sides of the conflict completely, and neither of those involved wants to accommodate the needs of the other by stepping down. Only rarely does this act as a long-term fix for the problem, but it can act as a short-term solution that gives you the opportunity to work with both sides for a long-term answer to the issue.

Example: Becka and Shahid are working together to order the raw materials for their food preparation company. Shahid believes that 20% of the budget needs to be put towards a new vegetarian dish, whilst Becka is looking to put that 20% towards a new range of meat-based pizzas. A manager steps in and gives each side 10% of the budget, so both sides see some of their wants fulfilled in the short term, with more discussion about the solution to follow.

Related: 8 steps for an effective decision-making process (with tips)

Collaborating style

Opposite to the compromising style, which sees both sides having to make sacrifices, the collaborating style drives to produce results that see both sides of the argument win. This is a method that you can only use when the two sides of the conflict have goals that are reconcilable and are willing to discuss the point of contention in-depth to find a solution that makes everyone in the situation happy.

This may be the best option for solving conflicts in the workplace, as everyone has worked in tandem to find a positive solution, which leaves morale high. It's important to note that this is only possible when everyone involved is willing to communicate. Everyone needs to be willing to communicate to find a good solution, and a single person failing to do so could cause serious issues.

Example: Paul and Julia have worked together in management for years, and are looking for new premises for their shop. The two have different features they would like to see in their ideal premises, and no one place has all of the features that they need. Rather than sacrificing their needs, the two find cheaper premises with Julia's preferred features and use the saved funds to upgrade the facility to include aspects that Paul needs. Both have what they needed, requiring only a short discussion to negotiate the solution.

Related: 7 ways to communicate effectively at work

Conflict management skills

Here are a few useful skills you may want to acquire or work on to improve your ability to effectively manage teams:

  • Active listening: Active listening enables you to process the meaning of someone else's words and understand their perspective. Using active listening can help you determine the true source of a conflict and empathise with each person involved in a conflict.

  • Problem-solving: You can use problem-solving skills to discover the best compromise for a conflict and prevent similar problems in the future. Problem-solving also helps you use your resources wisely and conduct research to find innovative methods for conflict resolution.

  • Communication: Effective communication is vital to successful conflict resolution because it enables everyone to set clear expectations about their actions and choices. Use communication to verify information, ask follow-up questions and express your opinions honestly to avoid conflicts in the future.

  • Teamwork: Being proactive about helping others, sharing verbal validation and asking for equal input from team members promotes positive morale and open communication, which can decrease conflicts long-term.

  • Stress management: Whether you're managing a personal conflict or mediating an issue between other people, it's important to have effective mechanisms for managing your own stress. Using stress management techniques can also help you maintain a positive attitude and avoid conflicts from misunderstandings or personal frustration.

  • Emotional intelligence: Developing emotional intelligence involves actively working to understand your colleagues' viewpoints, possible misunderstandings, motivations and needs. Recognising peoples' emotions and your own feelings during a conflict can help you manage emotional reactions and develop solutions that work for everyone.

  • Neutrality and impartiality: When mediating a conflict, give everyone equal time to share their opinions and use all perspectives to generate a compromise that benefits everyone.

  • Patience: Remaining patient and maintaining a calm demeanour is important during a conflict, especially when others have heightened emotions. Being patient can help you maintain your own emotional stability and give others the time and space they need to calm down and think logically during a disagreement.

Related: Question: 'Tell Me About a Time You Had a Conflict at Work'

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