How to Resolve Workplace Conflict with Conflict Resolution Strategies

Workplace conflict resolution can feel like lion taming, but without the benefit of tame lions. Half of HR workers report spending one to five hours a week on workplace conflict resolution, which demonstrates how persistent it is. Whether you’re an HR department of one or you manage a whole team, managers and employees turn to you when they need help mediating and resolving workplace conflicts. Much is at stake; employees may threaten to quit or even sue. You need to go in armed with effective conflict resolution strategies to de-escalate tension, get opposing sides to compromise, and remedy hurt feelings.

In this chapter of the HR 101 Guide, we’ll go over conflict management strategies so you can increase employee engagement and retention, eliminate distractions, and support a healthy work culture. Specifically, we’ll discuss how to create a clear strategy to prevent conflict and a plan for conflict resolution to empower you and your team to act decisively and consistently when situations arise. We’ll go over the steps to take when you do have to mediate a conflict between employees. We’ll discuss ways to build a clear culture of understanding, open communication, and collaboration. Lastly, we’ll address training managers and employees on these same skills to improve their conflict resolution skills.

Developing these conflict resolution skills will go a long way towards making everyone feel safe and cared for at your organization. When conflicts arise, as they inevitably do, you want people to trust they will be heard and that someone’s on top of the issue.

Example of a Workplace Conflict: Round Robin Gone Wrong

James is the newest addition to a small sales team. His experience at the company has been in customer service, but he’s impressed management with his ability to interact with customers. His excitement over his new position and his drive to prove himself by shooting over and above his quota leads him to make a few missteps with his new team.

While accounts are usually assigned through a round robin, there’s an unspoken rule on the team about new accounts from specific industries going to certain sales reps. James, however, understands this to be more of a suggestion than a rule and doesn’t hand over some leads to the appropriate teammate. As a result, the other team members start hoarding leads and cutting James out of the loop because they feel he’s gone rogue.

Bitterness and resentment build on all sides until three of the sales people complain to the sales manager about what they see as James’s “lone wolf” behavior. When confronted with their complaints, James feels ambushed and maligned. He tells the manager that he was only trying to do his best. The strife has everyone feeling unwelcome and anxious. The manager doesn’t think she’ll seem very objective since she’s personally friends with some of the sales people and appeals to the business’s HR representative to find a solution to this conflict.

Round robin illustration

Faced with this issue or one similar to it, HR should ask themselves a few questions:

We’ll come back to this example and a possible solution as we answer these questions and discuss conflict resolution strategies to give you a solid understanding of how to handle similar situations.

Keep reading to learn how to best tackle workplace conflicts.

When Should HR Get Involved?

First, it’s important to understand the difference between conflict and disagreement. Though disagreements are sure to crop up in any business that has more than a single employee, these don’t normally require intervention because they’re a sign of collaboration and communication. People are still talking and willing to work together in a disagreement.

But when disputes go beyond professional opinions and involve personal attacks, rudeness, or resentment (whether vented openly or passive aggressively)—these step over the line of acceptable disagreements into unacceptable workplace conflicts. Conflict disrupts work and makes collaboration impossible. And a conflict doesn’t have to be an all-out screaming match, either. Avoidance or silence, which lead to frustration and resentment, can also be a sign that there’s something wrong and that it’s time to step in with conflict management strategies.