Managing Conflict: How to Turn Conflicting Relationships into Thriving Partnerships with Peers, Between Employees, and with Your Leaders

Conflict is a disagreement or a situation in which your view of the world differs from another person’s view. In the workplace, this can be a disagreement between employees, between an employee or manager, or between different teams or departments.

Conflict exists because we do not understand, appreciate, or accept other people’s perspectives. Conflict is natural. We are all different, and conflict will occur; however, conflict or disagreements becoming negative, personal, or exclusive should not happen, but it is often the case.

As leaders, we must focus on utilizing conflict to generate better ideas, more effective outcomes, and more inclusive relationships. No one’s thoughts should be overlooked because they are unique; conflict offers the chance for each voice to be heard in your working relationships.

At any given time, there are three types of relationships at play within an organization: conflicting, coexisting, and partnering.

A conflicting relationship is where there is a lot of disagreement in the relationship. It’s often emotional, loud, and can be draining.

A coexisting relationship is when you tolerate the other person by avoiding communication and any sort of conflict. The relationship can feel stagnant, complacent, tolerant, and only works to maintain the status quo.

Coexisting is unproductive and can create a negative work environment. Feelings and emotions build up over a period of time until words and emotions are shared that cannot be taken back. People become disengaged and non-performing; thus, nothing gets accomplished. We tend to work around the other person, ultimately causing more work.

A partnering relationship is a positive relationship where both parties are focused on positive outcomes. Ideally, we want every relationship to be a partnership. The relationship feels safe, supportive, productive, collaborative, and communicative.

The leader’s responsibility is to turn conflicting relationships into thriving partnerships within the organization.

Moving into Partnership

By communicating better, effectively listening, and taking the time to practice empathy and understand others, we can evolve our relationships to become partnerships. Remember, a partnership does not require you to like the other person. It is a relationship where work gets accomplished, and personal biases and prejudices are unimportant.

The Value of Effective Communication

Disagreement is often the result of a misunderstanding caused by not sending a clear message or listening to another person correctly. When you consider that communication is the most important tool for anyone at work, it is easy to understand that faulty, wrong, or misunderstood communication leads to problems.

If we are going to excel in our roles and healthily resolve conflicts, then we need to be effective communicators. Usually, faulty communication is a result of a lack of respect, understanding, and/or healthy conversations among a group or team. It’s amazing what happens when and if we simply take some personal accountability and responsibility to have conversations with each other as opposed to letting things build up and fester.

Often, instead of addressing concerns head-on with the individual, we tend to express our concerns to everyone else but the person with whom we are experiencing conflict. We must avoid the temptation of shying away from tough conversations as it will only delay communication. As leaders, we must lead the way in communicating and managing conflicts head-on with our peers, between our employees, and with our leaders. Below are a few tips for you to address conflict effectively and foster coexisting relationships with each type of person with whom you work.

Managing Conflict with Peers
• Seek to understand before seeking to be understood
• Before we are quick to blame the other person, it’s often a positive and productive tactic to first assess our role in contributing to the conflict and hold ourselves accountable for our actions
• Remember to confront problems as opposed to people, which keeps emotions from getting the best of us
• Avoiding gossip can often be a character revealer, setting the right example for others whom we lead, inspire, or influence in our role

Managing Conflict Between Employees
• Consider the work environment and assess the situation; plan to resolve the conflict
• Meet with employees individually to obtain their view before meeting with them both
• Facilitate a private meeting so they can communicate directly
• Summarize key concerns and ask for their response
• Explain that they must maintain a professional work relationship. Make it clear that the employee must show improvement in the next 30 days
• Detail an agreement of what they are committed to doing to maintain their professionalism

Remember, you have your human resources team as a support to get this right. If we allow these conflicts to remain unresolved, then, like any conflict, we risk causing damage to the whole department or team.

Managing Conflict with Your Leader
• Understand your manager’s unique working style before engaging in conversation
• Remember to approach them with questions and potential solutions, not just problems and complaints
• Be prepared and professional in how you address the situation and conversation
• Listen to understand their perspective as opposed to listening to respond
• Be willing to look at the big picture and how important the situation is in the grand scheme of things
• Recap important agreements through email communication as a follow-up after the conversation takes place

Conflict with your superior is natural. It is common to see things differently, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a positive working relationship. Your superior most likely does not like conflict either. However, conflict must be addressed to move forward.

The single biggest driver in transforming conflicting relationships into thriving partnerships is courageous conversations. Sure, it can be scary, but courageous leadership is about taking action despite your fear. Face conflict head-on by engaging in and encouraging quality conversations with and among peers, employees, and leaders in your organization.

Happy partnering!

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