Manager Skills to Resolve Employee Conflict

One of the most challenging roles of a manager, no matter how experienced they are, is effectively resolving employee conflict. Here are our tips.



Conflict management is a critical skill for any manager, even if your team currently gets along well. After all, interpersonal communication is complex and human interactions inevitably spark conflict, particularly when people come from diverse backgrounds and beliefs or simply have a difference in opinion.

Managers who ignore issues or fail to mediate problems lose credibility and respect. This means that building and refining skills to resolve conflict is a critical goal for great leaders.

While it may seem impossible to please everyone, your objective is to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution for all parties involved. To help you be successful, here are our tips for effective conflict resolution.

Manager Tips to Resolve Workplace Conflict

Listen actively

Active listening means paying close attention to each person’s perspective without interruption. When dealing with workplace conflict, focus on what is being said rather than your response or how to defend yourself (or others).

To demonstrate your attentiveness, use non-verbal cues like nodding or showing facial emotions. Reflect the feeling of what is being said to demonstrate you are actively listening. Phrases like “That is really frustrating” or “I see why you are upset” will help the person who is speaking feel heard.

The simple acknowledgment of each party's feelings is a primary key to conflict resolution.

Be aware of your non-verbal communication

Pay close attention to your body language to make sure it matches your words. Body language, tone of voice, and eye contact can all be interpreted as supporting your message or betraying it. If there are inconsistencies among the three, the people involved may misinterpret your message.

Do not get defensive

As you listen to others speak, try to understand their perspectives of why they feel their positions are correct. Use phrases like “I understand what you mean” or “That’s a good point" to help them feel validated.

Overall, respect their opinions, even if you do not agree with them. Remember that your common objective is conflict resolution.

Remain neutral

To facilitate a productive conversation when there are differing opinions, you may want to involve human resources to act as a neutral third party. Ensure both parties involved in the conflict can express their viewpoints and feelings to problem solve.

As you respond to or discuss the situation, be cognizant of the words you use. Whether intentional or not, your words may inadvertently assess blame.

For example, when a deadline is missed, you might bluntly say, “We missed this deadline and are now behind schedule because you didn’t complete your tasks on time.” However, a more constructive approach would be to facilitate a blame-free discussion, encouraging all employees involved to share their perspectives on the challenges faced. Allow everyone to collaborate on ways to effectively identify the root causes of the delay and ways to work together to find solutions for future improvement.   

Begin statements with “I”

“I” statements help you formulate how a problem is affecting you. They also force you to take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, starting a sentence with “you” may feel like an attack.

If it feels like you are talking to a brick wall, you could say, “I feel like I’m not being understood” instead of, “You are not listening to me.” Putting others on the defense is not effective for resolving conflict.

Avoid absolutes

Using absolutes like "always," "never," and "everyone" can make things worse by weakening your point and raising doubt.

Stick to the facts to maintain credibility.

For example, instead of saying, "You're always late," say, "I'm concerned that you arrived at work more than 5 minutes late 3 times last week." Facts are heard much more clearly than exaggeration or words laced with frustration.

Tame your emotions

When emotions are high due to workplace conflict, rational thinking shuts down. Instead of trying to suppress your emotions, give yourself time to find a private space and let your emotions out. Writing down your thoughts will help release your emotions and allow you to address conflict.

Before you move forward with handling workplace disputes, be sure you have calmed down completely and are able to think rationally.

Find a way to compromise

Help the conflicting employees identify common ground and guide them to identify solutions. If you are part of the conflict, assess the issue and determine if you must hold your ground or give what they are asking for.

Compromising should never be a battle with your pride of needing to be right, especially considering the image you create when it is “your way or the highway.” In many cases, being accommodating to resolve workplace conflict is the best solution.

Only discuss on a need-to-know basis

Trust and respect are essential to successful conflict resolution. Do not discuss employee conflicts with those who are not involved.

When your employees hear you talking negatively about a coworker, they assume you speak negatively about them behind their backs, as well. Refrain from bad mouthing, gossiping, or saying anything you would not say in front of the person.

Avoid taking things personally

When someone disagrees with your opinion or criticizes your performance, do not take it personally. Opposing viewpoints should never be interpreted as character attacks, especially when problem solving.

Know when to apologize

A manager who apologizes demonstrates humility, respect, and effective conflict resolution. If there is an opportunity to take ownership of a misunderstanding, apologize. When expectations may have been unclear that created confusion or lead to a quarrel, apologize.

Recognizing there were opportunities for you to have prevented some form of workplace conflict will help ease tension and allow you (and others) to move forward more quickly.

Focus on the present, not the past

Do not let former conflicts cause you to be resentful. Let them go! Weaponizing an unresolved conflict from the past will prevent you from ever reaching a true resolution.

Use humor when appropriate

When used properly, humor can ease tension when trying to resolve conflict. Assess whether the situation may be too serious to joke about and that your humor will not be misinterpreted.

If sarcasm is your mode of humor, tread lightly. Sarcastic comments may hurt or offend rather than resolve an issue.

Remember the importance of the relationship

As with any personal association, conflicts come and go. Never jeopardize a relationship over a temporary conflict.

Stratus HR Can Help You Resolve Workplace Conflicts

Whether you are new to being a manager or have years of experience under your belt, our certified HR experts at Stratus HR are here to help you with conflict resolution. They can advise you on how to simmer tension or play the neutral third-party role, guide you with managing a sensitive situation, or be a sounding board to validate that your action plan is spot on.

No matter your situation, Stratus works in the background to streamline transactional tasks and position your staff as the workplace hero. For more information, please book a free consultation and our team will contact you shortly.

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