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The manager is not only responsible for the good performance of his teams, but must also ensure that a healthy and motivating work environment is maintained. During the course of his career, he will be required to manage conflicts between employees. It is therefore important to learn how to defuse professional conflicts so that calm and peace return to the team, the basis of good collective performance.

Understanding conflict

Conflict is only one form of communication. As a team leader, you need to understand the sources of relational conflict in the workplace. Different personalities, emotions and stress management are all factors that influence communication. And it can happen that in a given situation, conflicts break out between co-workers.

Relationship conflicts usually revolve around :

  • Objectives: when collaborators have divergent, opposing or even incompatible goals
  • Opinions: when personal values and opinions or work methods are part of the tension
  • Norms: here, it is more the values and beliefs that are a problem between colleagues.

It’s up to you to recognize the warning signs of conflict between co-workers before it escalates. For the good of your company, you must resolve a conflict situation in the workplace as soon as possible. This situation can only be detrimental to your company’s productivity.

Intervene only if you have the legitimacy to do so

If you are the employer and you do not work directly with the colleagues concerned, it is preferable to delegate the resolution of the conflict to their manager. Often, it is the direct manager, the n+1 of one of the colleagues who has the full legitimacy in a mediation role.

If the conflict concerns a temporary employee, you can ask his or her internal manager to defuse the conflict or, at worst, his or her temporary employment agency to intervene.

Learn about the origins of the conflict

Identifying the nature of the conflict and the different ways people react to conflict is a key to resolving the dispute before it becomes a catastrophe.

 Understanding the origin of the conflict also allows you to find the right solution to resolve it

Staying professional

You must be able to put aside the emotional or affective side. This is essential to keep an objective eye. You must also be careful not to let colleagues get into personal attacks and get out of hand.

It is essential here not to take sides in the conflict. You must be a mediator and show enough empathy to understand each other’s feelings. Remember that you are there to find a solution for the people in conflict and that the goal is to have a healthy team cohesion.

Provoke face-to-face discussion

When dealing with conflict in the workplace, sharing is the best way to resolve it. Have a direct and constructive exchange with people in conflict. This does not mean resorting to emails, Slack or text messages. You need a real face-to-face conversation. At worst, you can do it via video conference or over the phone if face-to-face is impossible.

What you need to do is let go of your emotions, especially negative ones like resentment, aggression or anger. Similarly, give people a few hours to relax. This is much better than confronting them while they are overwhelmed with emotions.

During exchanges, stick to the facts. Try to get the protagonists to agree on the factual elements. Based on these elements, you can then move on to interpretations. Free up the floor so that each person can say how they experienced a decision or behaviour.

At this point, things will be said and it will become possible to clarify the situation. This is the royal road to compromise and a calm and constructive situation.

Imagine a common project with colleagues in conflict

If you are unable to resolve the conflict around a discussion table, you may decide to change the way colleagues view each other by giving them a joint project. You can ask them to work together on a project that ideally will tap into the personal strengths of both parties. Also, choose a goal that is easily achievable within a tight time frame. This can allow employees to discover each other in a new context and get to know each other better. However, the technique can quickly become counterproductive if the deadline is too long or if the project does not value the protagonists equally.

Know how to bang your fist on the table

Sometimes conflicts arise from the malice and bad faith of certain employees. If you notice objectionable and textually reprehensible behavior, you must act without hesitation. Not only do you need to take steps to stop the behavior, but you also need to make sure the rest of the team understands what they are risking by engaging in such behavior.

Sanctions are not a panacea, but the manager must resort to them without hesitation when a conflict escalates to the point where one employee becomes the whipping boy of another. Although sanctions are always the last option, it is better to consider them if they can help break the deadlock.

Use a third party

You can also use a third party, external to the conflict, to initiate and guide the discussion. This could be another manager, someone from the HR team, a staff representative or someone who has influence over colleagues.

In summary, conflicts between colleagues are only a form of communication. It is up to the manager to know how to interpret the origins of the conflict and to provoke discussion in order to find a way out. The team’s cohesion and performance depend on it.

Alicia Gomez - Senior Content Manager | Alicia is an author, blogger, and certified Enneagram coach with a bachelor's in Communications. She's been blogging for six years and run a consulting business offering communications, strategy. Her favorite quote: Be you. Break free. Break through.

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