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How Well Do You Manage Conflict?

If you work in a highly creative environment like an ad agency, consulting firm or corporate marketing department, you’ve probably experienced your fair share of workplace arguments and confrontations. When creative tension runs high in a business, it can often lead to amazing breakthroughs—but also boisterous breakdowns! Simple disagreements on creative direction can rapidly take a nose dive into personal squabbles, destructive criticism and the potential for bruised egos and hurt feelings.

Learning to manage and resolve conflict as a marketing leader is an essential skill (particularly when it comes to emergent comms crises). You need to understand that conflict is inevitable because your people have different backgrounds, viewpoints and competencies. Thus, preventing or avoiding conflict in the workplace is just not realistic – it’s going to happen and you need to be prepared. However, it is possible to learn how to react to a conflict effectively and productively to avoid escalation and unintended negative outcomes. It turns out that effective conflict management can reduce the degree of frustration, discomfort, anger, and stress that employees experience in the workplace.

With that as a backdrop, here are a few key lessons on how to identity, manage and resolve workplace conflicts.

Identify the Root Cause of the Conflict

The first step in resolving a conflict in the workplace is tracing its cause. Sometimes, the cause is a simple misunderstanding that you can resolve through direct and authentic  communication. In other situations, pinpointing the root cause of the conflict can be challenging, so you may need to get many people involved so they can offer their perspectives and opinions. Importantly, conflict can reveal complex and sensitive issues such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, or unfair treatment. Depending on the severity of the conflict, you may need the intervention and advice of an ethics and professional responsibility lawyer.

Listen Actively to All Parties Involved

Active listening is one of the most important soft skills required in the workplace. When looking to resolve a conflict, being an active listener and giving equal attention to all sides involved in the dispute is vital.

Active listening is the ability to focus all your attention on a speaker, understand the message, and offer a thoughtful response. Doing it well allows you to obtain as much information as possible and can help you ask relevant questions. Paying sincere attention like this leads to mutual understanding, eliminating many of the minor causes of conflict. Every person involved should talk about their views, thoughts, and concerns, and each side should suspend judgment until all perspectives have been heard.

Find A Reasonable and Balanced Resolution

Ignoring a conflict or waiting for it to die down is not a good approach because if the issue persists, tension and emotion will resurface at some point with a vengeance. To reduce conflict in the workplace, you need to find a reasonable, practical, and balanced resolution. The parties involved are unlikely to forget about the issue. The faster someone finds a resolution, the easier it is to communicate and resume regular activities.

Moreover, neglecting a conflict will cause growing resentment. Ask all the parties involved to have an honest discussion. Everyone should feel that they have been heard and that their requests are considered. For a balanced, win-win resolution, you may need to engage an impartial mediator.

Workplace conflicts can be disruptive because they impact relationships, decrease productivity, break down lines of communication, and create a hostile work environment. Learning how to resolve conflict effectively is fundamental to building a strong team.  Never ignore conflict, but rather try to handle it directly when it occurs. This approach will help you avoid other negative unintended consequences. When caught in the middle of a conflict, articulate your opinions and concerns in an honest and thoughtful manner. Whether you’re a leader or a team member, you can apply these tips to contribute to creating a more supportive culture and a positive working environment.

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to resolve conflicts in the post-COVID era, subscribe to the TopRight blog! Or connect with me on Twitter and on LinkedIn. If you’re still on a quest for more insight, pick up copies of our latest books: Strategic Analytics and Marketing, Interrupted.

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