November 4, 2015

How to Successfully Defuse Conflicts at Work


No matter what type of team you are leading, conflicts are bound to happen. As a manager you are going to have to deal with your fair share of workplace conflicts. Addressing conflict in a professional and effective manner is an often overlooked but essential managerial skill.

Sometimes these are small spats and can be resolved with a simple sit-down between the two conflicted parties, other times an issue can compound into a widespread problem and threaten the stability of your company.

When it comes to addressing tension at work, Do you think you are doing a good job of handling these types of situations? There’s a good chance that many of your employees don’t agree.

Disputes within your team are not always a bad thing. Many times disagreements over process or design can be constructive and show that you have employees who are invested in the success of the company and take pride in their contributions.

While conflicts are certainly one of the most unpleasant aspects of having a managerial role, few workplace disputes are insurmountable.

Recognize that Conflicts are Inevitable

Conflicts are an unavoidable part of the job and you need to tackle them head on once they present themselves.

Workplace conflict resolution specialists agree that avoiding a conflict will not make it go away.

The biggest mistake you can make as a manager is to try and sweep an issue under the rug or simply wait for it to blow over. Defusing tense situations at work is part of your job description and you need to face the problem as soon as it arises so that it doesn’t escalate.


Most of the time (maybe even all of the time), conflicts in the workplace manifest over time. If you are doing your job well, you have probably already noticed warning signs that are telling you that a conflict is brewing and that disputes are reaching their boiling points.

Look for behavioral signs from your staff that show a level of disgruntlement. Most of the time, these signs of malcontent manifest as passive-aggressive actions aimed at the person or group of people who the employee or employees are having a problem with.

You might notice an employee who is constantly addressing another employee with a tinge of sarcasm or subtle but very noticeable rudeness. An unwillingness to cooperate with certain team members fully is another clear sign of discontent and frustration.

Most commonly, workplace conflicts stem from personal differences, non-compliance with rules, competition and misunderstandings.

Your job is to keep an eye out for these types of warning signs and step in right away to try and defuse the issues before they grow.

Don’t Make Assumptions, Investigate

Be sure you get all of the information you can about the dispute together before you start trying to solve the problem. Make sure that you are completely up to date on the situation and that you have not only heard arguments from both sides of the dispute, but also from third parties who are not involved in it.

To investigate, it’s best to engage in conversations with the people who are in conflict. Make sure that you are approaching them in a friendly way and that you are being neutral on the matter.

Listen attentively and form your conclusions based on all of the facts you have received from both sides. Once you believe you have a firm grasp of the situation, only then should you start trying to find a solution.

Identify and Prioritize the Problem

As a manager, you need to demonstrate that you are the leader and that you are representing the interests of the company. In addition to being an active listener, you are a barometer for measuring what circumstances are most important and when efforts are becoming counteractive.

All of your decisions should be made according to what’s best for the company. It shouldn’t be about who’s right, who’s wrong or who started the conflict.

Your job is to find a solution that is going to ensure that nothing negative will come of the conflict, in terms of the effects that it might have on the company and your employees as an integral part of your business.

Stay Positive

Stay positive. The worst thing you can do in such a situation is to lose your cool. No matter how many times we have already said it, it’s important to reiterate: you are the team’s leader. You are responsible for righting the ship and defusing the situation.

Your main focus is the well-being of the business and it’s your job to solve the conflict and get everyone focused back on company goals.

Remaining cool, collected and positive will help you to navigate the situation more easily. And having a level-headed and confident approach will show your employees that you truly are management-material and someone they can look up to and learn from.


More than anything, managers need to react very quickly to these types of unhealthy situations at the workplace. The longer an employee conflict festers, the worse it will get and the harder it will be to resolve.

Always keep your eye open for signs of employee turmoil on the horizon and be prepared to intervene as soon as you recognize conflicts so that they don’t expand out of your control.

Like any skill, conflict resolution takes practice and patience.