Managing Conflict: Handling Difficult Situations at Work

There is a reality that any leader or manager needs to be aware of—leadership and conflict go together like peas and carrots. Occupying the corner office might seem like a comfortable place to set up shop, but the playing field is actually a full-contact sport. Any leader should develop a skill set that addresses conflict in a healthy, productive way. As I wrote this post, I was reminded of an ethos that goes, “Don’t fear conflict; embrace it—it’s your job.”

Employees Are Different—From You and Each Other

Today’s workplaces are more diverse than ever before in history—and each employee possesses a unique set of attitudes, ideals, beliefs, and opinions that can widely differ from your own as well as other members of your team. These differences are what can lead to workplace conflicts, and your ultimate success as a leader springs from your ability to handle these situations with finesse. Consider these tips for handling workplace conflicts:

  • Try to address the issue early—before it escalates. Many times workplace conflict arises because unaddressed tension or miscommunication is present in a setting. If there is a potential conflict in a group setting, try to identify it early on before it becomes a bigger problem.
  • If an issue does escalate, calm involved parties down first, and then address it. It’s very difficult to have a productive conversation when people are angry or upset. Try to regain clear heads (in yourself and in others), and then address the situation at hand.
  • Maintain a positive outlook. Even if a situation looks bad; for instance, if someone is trying to take credit for your work or being negative about something you are proposing, try to keep an open mind. Instead of being accusatory or airing grievances in a public setting, meet in a neutral place, one-on-one, and treat the other person with respect. By keeping a positive attitude, you effectively disarm the other person and prevent them from being hostile.
  • Be an active listener. As a leader, it is not only your responsibility to give direction, but you must also be able to listen to the input, ideas, and complaints of others. Allow your team members to provide their perspective as well as acknowledge their emotions. If there is a conflict or if they do not agree with you or someone else, listen to them and work to focus on behaviors or ideas that move toward solutions. Get away from bringing attention to differences in point-of-view and perspective and find a place where you can meet in the middle.
  • Respect differences on your team. Instead of imposing your influence, rank, or hierarchal level, create an environment that values unique differences in people and is accepting of all experience levels and backgrounds. Remember that there are many grey areas related to conflict resolution—and as the workplace becomes more generationally and culturally varied, this is sure to continue.

Remember to be Fair

As a leader, it is important for you to ensure fairness when handling conflict within your team or when dealing one-on-one with a direct report. Stay objective and level-headed and realize that conflict management is a form of negotiation. Try to persuade, develop buy-in, and build consensus so everyone (or at least a majority) walks away from the situation feeling satisfied. By learning these skills, you will not only distinguish yourself amongst your team, but also as a true leader.

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