Practical Application: Conflict Resolution Skills in the Workplace

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Conflict resolution is an important and critical skill for leaders to develop. In this lesson, you will evaluate several scenarios to determine the best way you to resolve conflicts in the workplace.

Resolving Conflicts

Conflict occurs when differences of opinion or personality become serious enough that simple resolution techniques fail. By definition, this kind of conflict is difficult to resolve. However, there are a few effective conflict resolution skills that can be applied in workplace settings. You can learn more about these techniques in the What Is Conflict Resolution in the Workplace? - Skills, Techniques & Methods lesson.

Scenario 1: Somebody's Not Pulling Their Own Weight

Pete is a project manager for a painting company. Recently, a fight erupted on a job site between two employees who got into a verbal shouting match. Even worse, this happened in front of their customer and other companies working on the remodel project. When Pete pulled the two angry employees aside and asked about the events that led up to the fight, one employee accused the other of being lazy on the job site. The employee being accused of laziness registered his displeasure at his co-worker's attempts to ''Run the show even though he's not the boss.''

  • What is the first thing Pete should do after collecting all of the facts?
  • What can Pete do to make sure this conflict does not happen again?
  • How can Pete involve the employees in the conflict resolution process?

Assessing Your Answers

In some ways, this will be a relatively easy problem to solve. Nevertheless, there are some factors that could make the situation worse than it appears. As Pete prepares to help his two employees navigate their way through the conflict to a mutually acceptable agreement, it's important that he remains keenly aware of the issues that are factual versus the issues that simply relate to perception.

Here are a few things that Pete can do to resolve the conflict:

  • Hold each employee accountable: Once Pete is certain that he understands all the facts, and the events leading up to the conflict, he can insist on specific behavior modifications.
  • Follow up: The very essence of accountability means that Pete will have to closely monitor both employees and measure them against the expectations he's made clear.
  • Action plan: Although Pete could simply direct his employees to perform or refrain from certain behaviors, holding the employees accountable for their own goals is more appropriate. Pete could ask both employees to create an action plan as to how they will modify behavior to prevent further conflict.

Scenario 2: Shared Space

Rosie is going into her third year managing the biology lab at a large university. Numerous professors and their classes require access to the lab, and the scheduling is important since the lab cannot accommodate more than one class at a time. Recently, tensions began to escalate between two professors who disagreed on the best way to share the lab space. One professor was highly organized and planned his lab time down to the minute. His counterpart, on the other hand, was a dynamic teacher who would take his students to the lab on the flight if it helped to illustrate the concept upon which he was lecturing.

  • Does Rosie need to intervene in this conflict?
  • Should Rosie tell the professors how to behave?
  • How can Rosie and the two professors diffuse the tension associated with this conflict?

Assessing Your Answers

It's likely that Rosie will have to intervene in this scenario since both professors are on the same level within the organization, and both require the lab to be the best teachers they can be. Some thoughts about how Rosie may resolve this conflict include:

  • Take charge: Although the professors might be encouraged early on to resolve the conflict on their own, the escalation intentions mean that Rosie will have to act. In the absence of agreement, Rosie may simply have to direct both professors to behave in a particular manner.
  • Tactful tension reduction: Just because Rosie may have to lay down the law about how the two professors should behave, that doesn't mean she must come off as rude or abrupt. Although she should be prepared to direct each party to take a specific action, the best outcomes will be achieved when all three individuals reduce tensions by being more tactful and self-reflective.

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