The Art of Reconciliation: Effective Conflict Resolution Techniques for Managers

Cynthia Bassett Hartwig

September 8, 2023

Conflict is unavoidable in any organization—be it a startup, an established corporation, or a non-profit. Differences in perspectives, objectives, and methods often lead to disagreements among team members. While conflict can be a catalyst for innovation and improvement, it can erode team cohesion and productivity when mismanaged. For managers, effectively resolving conflicts is not just an asset but a necessity. In this article, we’ll explore some proven conflict resolution techniques that can turn contentious situations into opportunities for growth.

Identify the Root Cause

The first step in resolving any conflict is to understand its origin. Often, the apparent issue is merely the tip of the iceberg. It could manifest deeper, underlying issues such as lack of clarity, uneven distribution of resources, or personal grievances. Before intervening, take the time to get to the root cause of the problem. Use open-ended questions and active listening skills to draw out the concerns of the involved parties.

Choose the Right Time and Setting

Timing and location can significantly influence the outcome of a conflict resolution process. There are better times to resolve personal disputes than the middle of a team meeting. Similarly, there may be better locations than a crowded office. Choose a neutral setting where all parties can speak freely, and ensure you have ample time to deal with the matter.

Leverage the ‘DESC’ Method

The DESC (Describe, Express, Specify, Consequences) method is a structured approach that can be extremely useful in managerial conflict resolution:

Describe: Clearly and objectively describe the behavior that is causing the conflict without labeling or judging.

Express: Explain your concerns and feelings about the situation.

Specify: Offer a specific solution to address the issue.

Consequences: Outline the positive outcomes if the solution is implemented.

Be an Active Listener

Active listening is more than just hearing what the other person is saying. It involves fully concentrating, understanding, and responding while showing engagement. Use body language like nodding, maintain eye contact, and give verbal cues like “I understand” to show that you are fully invested in the conversation. Summarize and clarify points to ensure mutual understanding.

Employ a Mediator

If a conflict becomes difficult for the involved parties to find common ground, employing a neutral mediator can be beneficial. A mediator can facilitate a more structured dialogue and offer solutions neither party has considered.

Encourage Solution-Based Discussion

Avoid getting stuck in a loop of blame and criticism. Any conflict resolution should focus on finding a solution that is agreeable to all parties involved. Encourage team members to think constructively, offering practical solutions rather than focusing on what went wrong.

Follow Up

The conflict resolution process continues when an agreement is reached. It’s essential to follow up to ensure that the changes are implemented and effectively resolve the issue. Keep an open line of communication to discuss any further problems or adjustments that may be required.

Train Teams in Conflict Resolution Skills

Prevention is often better than cure. Invest in training programs that teach your team members basic conflict-resolution skills. When individuals can effectively handle conflicts among themselves, it reduces the management burden and leads to a more harmonious work environment.

Conflict is a natural part of any work environment. What sets successful managers apart is the ability to turn these challenges into opportunities for growth and improvement. By identifying the root cause, choosing the appropriate time and setting, leveraging structured approaches like the DESC method, and encouraging solution-based discussions, managers can resolve conflicts and foster a culture of open communication and mutual respect. Remember, conflict resolution is not about winning an argument but achieving the best outcome for the team and the organization.