Anytime people come together in a group or workplace, there’ll be misunderstandings, disagreements, and silly squabbles. Whether you’re in a social or professional setting, it doesn't matter — arguments happen.

As inevitable as they are, most people prefer to avoid disputes as much as possible. You might brush off, downplay, or even ignore them.

Dodging conflict is especially prevalent at work, where employees strive to appear as team players who get along with everyone. But if disagreements between colleagues go unchecked, relationships can deteriorate, leading to a breakdown in teamwork, poor morale, and, at worst, a toxic company culture.

The best way to avoid workplace conflict is to settle arguments as they happen. Developing your conflict resolution skills means you can better support workers, helping them come to terms before the situation gets out of hand.

When resolved effectively, disagreements lead to greater understanding, collaboration, and innovation. It’s a win-win for all.

What’s conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is when two or more parties successfully work out a disagreement. This means both sides walk away from the interaction feeling heard and like they’ve reached a worthwhile compromise or better understand the other point of view.

Resolving workplace conflicts efficiently and pleasantly is an essential management skill, as disagreements can negatively impact your team or lead to misunderstandings and confusion. Unresolved conflict is also costly, with American businesses losing an estimated $359 billion annually as a result. Ongoing disagreements impede team collaboration, reducing productivity and effectiveness and increasing absenteeism and staff turnover. And those factors create a perfect storm, placing project work at risk of missed deadlines or outright failure.

Two types of conflict

No matter those involved, when teammates don’t get along, the conflict typically falls into one of two categories:

  1. Personality conflicts are disagreements between individuals perpetuated by emotions like anger, stress, or frustration.
  2. Substantive conflicts involve tasks or performance relating to project goals, resources, work expectations, or business decisions.

Regardless of the form, conflict stems from a perceived threat to one or both parties. Culture, values, and life experiences color these perceptions, and the resulting emotions can persist, potentially fueling ongoing conflict until it’s resolved.

Why does conflict occur in the workplace?

The first step toward resolving conflict is understanding its cause. Keep an eye out for sources of friction among teammates, including:

  • Conflicting resources: Time, materials, and access are all things employees need. When resources are in short supply, they may compete with others, leading to tension.
  • Conflicting styles: People work according to their needs and personalities. Styles can clash if teammates aren't accommodating.
  • Conflicting perceptions: Getting people on the same page by sharing information and ensuring open communication curbs disagreements based on clashing project work details.
  • Conflicting goals: Unclear targets or irreconcilable objectives increase the likelihood of mistakes and delays, leading to anger and frustration among team members.
  • Conflicting pressures: Individual workflows often depend on other teammates completing their tasks. If priorities surrounding dependencies don’t align, it can affect one’s ability to meet deadlines, leaving everyone frustrated.
  • Conflicting roles: Who does what can be an ongoing source of irritation. Tempers can flare if the responsibility for a shared task falls disproportionately on one person or if someone interferes with another colleague’s defined role.
  • Different values: Having to perform a task an employee feels goes against their values can cause significant internal and external conflict. Compromising those values can potentially threaten professional relationships and one’s well-being.
  • Unpredictability: When rules and policies are inconsistent or in flux, coworkers might feel confused, tense, and anxious.

What are conflict resolution skills?

Learning how to resolve conflict means relying on a toolbox of soft skills to connect with disputants, understand their perspectives, and find compromises that benefit all parties.

If you find yourself playing the role of mediator, consider developing the following skill sets.

1. Assertiveness

Learn to advocate for yourself and your teammates while finding ways to interact peacefully by practicing the following skills:

  • Decisiveness
  • Negotiation
  • Self-control
  • Emotional management

2. Active listening and interviewing skills

Communication skills help you ask questions and absorb information to identify the nature of a conflict while calming the speaker. Consider developing capacities in the following areas:

  • Attentiveness
  • Consideration
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Respect

3. Empathy

Putting yourself in someone’s shoes to view a dispute from their perspective is an essential conflict resolution tool. You don’t necessarily have to agree with them, but it helps to understand how they feel. You can establish empathy with others by:

  • Asking for and giving feedback
  • Being patient
  • Welcoming opinions
  • Valuing differences

4. Facilitation

It takes work to bring conflicting parties together to learn about each other's wants, needs, and perspectives. And encouraging people to be vulnerable and have a productive conversation requires facilitation skills like:

  • Collaboration
  • Diplomacy
  • Perception
  • Reflection

5. Mediation

Resolving conflict requires identifying the terms of a mutually acceptable agreement. For that to happen, you need skills that help you promote a compromise like:

  • Compassion
  • Insight
  • Honesty
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Persuasion

6. Problem-solving

The best conflict resolution strategies result in a win-win outcome for all. For this, you need to think outside the box. Some skills that promote creative problem-solving include:

  • Brainstorming
  • Critical thinking
  • Goal integration
  • Conflict analysis

7. Accountability

Establishing accountability clarifies expectations so everyone knows what to do and the consequences of failure. The following capacities help you define how people will be responsible for moving on from conflict:

  • Adaptability
  • Delegation
  • Follow-through
  • Motivation

6 steps for resolving workplace conflict

When the inevitable happens and you’re required to resolve a matter between project team members, taking a systemic approach can help you better manage conflict:

  1. Find a safe place: Solving the issue will require an honest and vulnerable conversation, which, in turn, requires privacy and safety. Find a space to talk privately with each conflicting party so they can air their concerns freely.
  2. Understand the source: Ensure both parties are in alignment about the issue fueling the disagreement. Ask as many questions as you need to get a complete picture of each person’s position, like what needs everyone feels are unmet.
  3. Use active listening skills: Once you understand everyone’s perspective, unite both parties. Ensure each has equal time to express themselves openly and honestly, without interruption. Listen while being assertive, setting ground rules for a calm conversation if necessary. Stay positive yet neutral and ask questions until you have enough information to mediate.
  4. Find common ground: Brainstorm ideas and encourage compromise until you identify a solution everyone can agree on.
  5. Agree on the solution and responsibilities: Establish the solution as a goal for each party to work toward, defining responsibilities and the consequences for failing to live up to the agreement.
  6. Follow up: Keep the lines of communication open and check in regularly to see if the situation remains resolved or requires further mediation.

Avoid conflict and confusion with Roadmunk by Tempo

Don’t let disagreements derail your work. Be proactive and ensure project transparency around goals and responsibilities by creating a visual roadmap using Roadmunk by Tempo. Combined with Jira-enabled Timesheets, you’ll generate visibility around staffing and resources to identify potential roadblocks and conflicts before they happen.