Managing Conflict at Work

Conflict is inevitable, even for the most successful teams. In fact, many relationship experts argue that true interpersonal growth cannot occur without navigating the difficulties of occasional conflict. Managing conflict is a skill that anyone can develop over time. Management students pursuing a degree through an online MBA program will have the opportunity to study conflict management and hone their skills through practical experience.

Methods of Handling Conflict

Managers have a variety of methods at their disposal when they need to handle conflict within their teams: accommodation, avoidance, collaboration, competition and compromise. Each of these methods has benefits and weaknesses that can either improve or worsen conflict. Students can learn these methods in a classroom setting before putting them into use in real-life business situations.

Successful managers know their teams well, and they know which conflict management methods will work best in a given situation. For instance, a manager might see that a deadline is approaching and realize the team does not have time to spend deliberating over a collaborative solution to a problem right away. The manager, then, might encourage the team to make accommodations for the short term, with assurances for longer-term conflict resolution after the deadline.

When a Manager Should Get Involved

Perhaps one of the trickiest aspects of managing conflict is knowing when it is time to get involved. Overall it is best to create an environment of open communication and encourage coworkers to handle their interpersonal issues directly before bringing in a superior. Situations will arise, however, when managers must become involved.

Managers should become involved in conflict between team members if the situation is impacting their performance and progress toward shared goals. Often, workers lose perspective and become near-sighted, and a manager can relieve tension simply by allowing the parties involved to air their grievances. In many cases, coworkers may find that speaking openly about their perceived “conflict” clears up misunderstandings and reveals that the situation is not really as bad as they thought it was.

In certain situations, an employee may habitually create conflict, in which case a manager should address the individual directly to establish appropriate boundaries and consequences as well as offer assistance moving toward a less conflicted work environment.

Ways Managers Can Prevent Conflict

Often the best method for managing conflict is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Not all conflict is preventable, but managers can deflect much of it with a few proactive measures. One important step a manager can take is to encourage everyone on the team to clearly communicate expectations. The manager can set the tone by casting a vision and helping the team take ownership of their shared goals in order to make sure everyone is headed in the same direction.

A manager can also prevent conflict by soliciting continual feedback from team members and encouraging employees to communicate issues as they arise, rather than letting them fester. As managers get to know their team members over time, they can note each individual’s talents, strengths and weaknesses, and they can place people together who complement each other. It might not always be possible to arrange the team perfectly according to personalities and personal preferences, but doing so when it is possible can help maintain a positive environment.

Managing conflict might not be the most glamorous skill for managers to develop, but it can prove to be invaluable in day-to-day work situations. Online MBA programs typically address conflict management as graduate students learn the essentials of project management. By effectively and positively handling conflict situations, managers can build confidence in their teams and help them press on to greater success.

Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.


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