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Managing Conflict - Leadership in Action

Posted by on April 17, 2015 at 11:00 AM


Conflict in the workplace is one of the most difficult situations a leader has to deal with. The outcome of conflict -- good or bad -- lies in how a leader manages the process to resolve it.  One of the most important things to keep in mind is that conflict is good for organizations. Working through conflicts amid a diversity of opinions, ideas, and knowledge sets can lead to innovative ideas and approaches. By systematically unpacking conflict a leader learns what the root causes are that lead to a situation, gains perspective of the individuals involved in the situation, develops effective resolution to the problem, and foresees how to head off future conflicts of a similar nature.


A three-step process can be applied to help leaders resolve conflicts in the workplace. First, assess the situation to understand the current status of the conflict. As Franz Wohlgezogen, Leadership and Change Management professor at Bocconi University, Milano Italy, calls it "Where are we now?" During this assessment phase, the leader needs to get clarity on the key players involved, their level of involvement, and their level of commitment. Getting key players buy-in to the conflict resolution process may require the leader to use different approaches with different people. 


Next, the leader will gather inputs from the key players involved in the conflict to find out more information about the origins of the conflict. The key players should share their perspective on the issue and not who they believe is responsible.  To minimize blaming, it is the leader's responsibility to quash any accusations that arise, and help individuals stay focused on the issue or tasks  conflict; while keeping the relationship conflicts (finger pointing) separate.  All parties should be encouraged to speak openly and honestly about where he or she believes the conflict originated as well as the attributes of the problem.  Leaders should keep an open mind and be willing to listen, even if the opinions given are in opposition to the leader's own beliefs.


After the inputs have been gathered, regarding the issue, it's time to chart a course toward achieving a desired resolution to the conflict.  I call this the outputs phase. The leader should now be able to develop a plan to get all parties to a desired resolution of the conflict.  Some of the work involved in this phase include identifying which aspect of the conflict to work on  first -- the tasks or the relationships aspect. The focus should be on shared interest and values.  Also look for compatible opinions and tradeoffs, as well as getting people to see the other person's perspective.  Once all angles of the conflict have been discussed and mutual agreement, including action steps to abate the conflict, the leader can document the terms of the agreement and share it with all parties involved. If the resolution affects organizational policy, it should be included as an amendment to policy. By navigating the conflict resolution process, leaders with gain the ability to be proactive in deescalating future tensions should a similar situation arise. 


Depending on the magnitude of the conflict, it may be necessary to bring in a third party to mediate the conflict resolution process. The third party mediator should be someone outside the organization who can view the situation and render an unbiased resolution while increasing trust among the involved parties.


Dr. Pinkey A. Stewart, leadership development and employee engagement strategist, keynote speaker, and dynamic workshop facilitator, is the owner and founder of SuccessZone. Have Dr. Pinkey speak at your next event or leadership retreat. Contact us at


Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG








Categories: leadership, professional/personal development, employee engagement

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